Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tapas-tastic: MoVida Next Door- Melbourne CBD (Review)

Don't be confused. MoVida Next Door is not MoVida. Rather it is (as the name suggests) next door to the original MoVida in the brightly graffiti clad alley of Hosier lane in Melbourne's CBD. It's MoVida's little sister, baby brother or more casual counterpart. Of course, they may not be the same place, but they run on essentially the same fuel- chef Frank Camorra's exquisite tapas dishes, great location and atmosphere, and a glass or two of sherry in the mix.  
The joy of MoVida Next Door is that you don't have to book weeks in advance for your Spanish themed taste odyssey, rather with a no booking policy it's a walk-in diners paradise, as long as you pick your times right.
I've learned the hard way that if you're really hungry and not prepared for a wait, 7.30pm on a Saturday night is not a good time to try your luck. 7.30pm on Tuesday however saw room for two at the bar and 6pm on a Friday once got us a prime corner table peering out to the lane way- very nice.
But despite the hit'n'miss seating, it's always worth checking out, because if you do get in, it's one of those happy surprises that makes the rest of your evening.
The menu is not huge, but don't forget to look above the bar for the chalkboard of specials- I forgot to last time and missed out on the prettiest baramundi dish with beetroot crisps you have ever seen. 
Paper-thin disks of dusky pink rings in varying shades... thankfully the friendly guy next to us was more than happy for me to peer at it, and even noted that it was just as tasty as it looked. *sigh*
We settled instead for the celebrated Anchoa Con Mato: crumbed and pan-fried fresh white anchovy on house-made curd, with a perfect combination of crunch and cream. It's tiny, but perfectly crafted silk and salt. The calamari and artichoke dishes were exquisite with their soft and crackly textures respectively, but the anchovy is a tough act to follow.
Pincho Moruno, Moorish lamb skewer cooked on charcoal, holds its own however. Long, thin and smokey, it's hard not to pick up the empty plate to lick up the left over meaty juices. I very nearly did.
But it's desserts that really get my juices going here. 
Churros done well are a thing of beauty I know, but this time we skipped the Spanish doughnuts in favour of Torta De Aciete; an olive oil crisp the size of a side plate, topped with a nipple of vanilla ice-cream floating on a fluffy pool Pedro Ximenez (sherry) foam. 
It sounds a bit porny. 
It was more than a bit sexy. 
We loved every mouthful of creamy delight followed by the jarring snap of the fennel studded olive oil crisp.
We wanted more. 
But like good girls, we decided to quit while we were ahead.     
And the drinks? The wine list often has me batting my eyelids and asking the waiters for advice; I just don't read Spanish and with food this good, I'm not about to take a stab in the dark. Helpfully the waiters know their stuff and this time I ended up with a glass of crisp verdhello that met all my needs without overshadowing the food. Good call from the waiter, so make the most of their knowledge and skill.  
From the roof tile light shades, to the fresh seafood on display in the bar and the 'edge of laneway cool'- MoVida Next Door might not be MoVida, but it doesn't have to be. Sure it's next door, but it absolutly stands alone.  

Address: 1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne CBD, 3000

Phone: (03) 9663 3038

Open: Tues-Sat, 5pm- till late
Closed: Sun-Mon

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Collected: Bar Lourinha- Melbourne CBD (Review)

The first time my mum came to visit Melbourne she said to me 'no-one ever throws anything out here do they? They just gather it together and decorate the walls with it'.
We were sitting at the polished wood counter at tiny Bar Lourinha, in Little Collins street. Looking at the walls crammed with paraphernalia from all era's and locations, I could see what she meant... the copper jelly moulds looked remarkably like some that my gran used to have... and the cabinet of souvenir teaspoons brought back childhood memories and thoughts of garage sales. There are horse shoes, portraits, ornamental deer heads and a huge string of chili's. From fans to fancy green wallpaper, the cosy space is chock-full of trinkets, bits & bobs. 
It's got a 'collector's' feel to it- each individual item intriguing and distinctive, but working in with the display around it. 
And the same can be said for the collection of dishes on offer. 
Sharing-plates are the MO here, each dish distinctive and spectacular, but like the curious collection on the walls, they also work well in combination. 
At a glance the menu does not appear to be huge, but the list of specials just about doubles what's on offer- and it's impressive every time the waiter manages to roll off a stream of them with hardly a glance at his notes. 
From wagyu 'carne cruda' to grilled king prawn with chili salt and lime, you'll be glad of the chance to share the little Spanish inspired dishes and taste as much as you can. Most items can be ordered by the half serve if you really don't want to share... but it's so much more fun when you pass it all around. 
Unless it's the lambs brains special. Then you'll be fighting to wipe the plate clean. The little fritatta arrives in it's own pan topped with thyme spiked aioli and laced throughout with shallot, all buttery goo and creamy, silky joy. It's an offal lovers delight, and smeared onto the accompanying hunk of hearty brown bread, it's a dish to dream viscous dreams about.
If you opt for the churros and dulce de leche dessert, be warned that when Spanish-doughnuts and chocolate sauce are this good, you might try to drink the left over sauce straight out of the dish. And Blanca's alfajores? Think shortbread, but not as you know it- filled with lemony caramel and dusted with coconut, they're little bombs of bright and sticky delight. Thank Blanca for sharing the recipe with chef Matt McConnell.   
Apart from lunch bookings and special dinners in the private 'chapel' room, it's first in best dressed here. So be prepared to have a short wait at the bar on a busy night. Thankfully the wine list is long, so any wait at the bar can be great fun. With a glass of sherry,friendly chatty staff and a chill soundtrack gently pulsing in the background, you might even be grateful for the extra chance to appreciate the walls of thing-a-me-jigs. 
It gave me a chance to ask about the terracotta 'half pig's'- apparently they are used for serving flaming chorizo sausage for Tuesday's 'Chorizo Diablo' lunches. Eh, who'd have guessed it?  
With a regularly changing menu and it's tucked away collectors feel, Bar Lourinha is great fun for a wine filled, friendly sharing meal- just don't make up your mind until you've heard all the specials!

Address: 37 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 7890  

Mon-Wed: 12noon-11pm
Thurs-Fri: 12noon-1am 
Sat: 4pm-1am 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mastering Master Chef- blues

I'm suffering withdrawal. 

It's pretty simple... months of Master Chef Australia madness has come to an end. 

What the hell am I supposed to do with my time now? 

What on earth is going to re-cap in the background while I make my own Master Chef dinner mess in the kitchen? 

What is going to cause my friends to have ongoing and heated discussions where no-one gets to be right? (Julie vs Poh vs Chris...)

And what is going to fill the void of food porn that I had come to rely on to finish my day?

OK- it's not quite that bad, but I am left with a huge sense of loss now that the familiar faces and crazy culinary challenges are gone. Not to mention that as an avid Chris and Justine supporter I was less than satisfied with the final show-down. For me, it was a disappointing end to a show that had sneakily sucked me in despite my best efforts.

It's not that I don't like Julie or Poh- after all, they both pulled off dishes that I'm unlikely to attempt in my wildest dreams, let alone on national TV with celebrity chefs watching. So well done to them and snaps to Channel 10 for a slathering of feel-good in an otherwise bitch on bitch reality TV-scape.

It's just that I developed my affinity for Chris and his nose-to-tail, beer swilling finesse early on, and like a footy team I wasn't swapping that up for nothing. 

Then my grudging acceptance of Justine settled in when I finally realised that yes, you can be beautiful and cook. Some people just have all the luck, so you might as well embrace it. 

As far as I could see, these two were the real contenders... with Lucas not too far behind. So I guess once they had gone, I was never really going to be happy with the outcome. 

Nothing personal. It's just so tricky when the judging is all in the flavour, and until we develop smell-and-taste-o-vision, we'll be creating our affinities with cooking contestants the best way we know how. For me, that was looking for things I could identify with; Chris's single minded vision and Justine's passion to grow and learn.

Good luck to them all, the best of them will certainly have a great head-start regardless of where they pulled up in the comp. And let's face it, no matter how you felt about the finale, it was certainly a tantalising ride. 

As one chef friend of mine put it when asked what he thought of the MC phenomenon; 

"At the end of the day, it's got people talking about food, and that can only be a good thing." 

Now, what to do with my evenings. I heard about these magical things once called books... 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Any Advances: Auction Rooms- North Melbourne (Review)

I'm a big fan of slavage. 
Taking something old and disused and giving it a second life. It could be a bottle, a jar, perhaps a previously loved jumper. 
Or like the Auction Rooms, it could be a building. 
Exactly as the name suggests the 'new' Auction Rooms (for dining) are the 'old' auction rooms (for auctions) of North Melbourne- the WB Ellis Auction House to be precise. The lovely thing about salvage in this case is that there's plenty of reference to the original purpose of the buildings and despite modern fit-outs, much of the charm and romance of the auction house remains. 
It's all in the details; Heinz pea & ham soup tins for sugar bowls, signs for valuers posted on the walls, the exposed brickwork and beams of the warehouse structure, a wooden gavel by the till. It's made more obvious again by dishes like 'the opening bid' listed on the menu. But despite the touches of nostalgia nodding to the buildings heritage, it's not all backwards glances and reverie. The menu is certainly not out of touch and the creative new aspects like PVC tubing chandeliers, a 'roof' of suspended milk crates in the back courtyard and the addition of modern lead-light details on the huge front windows, pull this baby squarely into the now. Ok, so you get it. It's a great space... but what about lot no. 20... the food?       
Brunch is the winner in my opinion here. Anyone brave enough to offer brains and sweetmeats gets my vote. But the house-made muesli is a great option too with a huge dollop of vanilla yogurt and poached fruits. Maybe a fishy start to your day is in order with sardine crostini and fennel sauerkraut? Or you could ease into the morning with poached eggs, avocado and ricotta on sourdough, tiddied up with fresh mint and chili. Brunch can easily roll-on-into lunch and afternoon beers here, with drinks on offer from bubbly to coopers.  
Don't forget to ask what the coffee of the day is and keep an eye on the boards by the retro-red-small-batch-coffee-roaster to see what the roasting team's been up to.
There's a a siphon coffee of the day on offer too, and the bong like contraption that brews it is great fun if you like your coffee a little more intriguing than most. It certainly beats a flat white with one. 
True you can feel a little lost here on weekends when the 'waiting for a table' and the 'waiting to pay' queues get mixed up- but any of the passing staff will be happy to point you in the right direction and throw in a smile for free. Yeah there can be a wait on Saturday mornings, but with so much visual stimulation, you hardly notice the time fly by.     
So pace the wooden floors and make the closing bid on that corner booth or seat by the window. 

Address: 103-107 Errol Street, North Melb, 3061
Phone: (03) 9326 7749
Mon-Wed 7:30am-4pm, 
Thurs & Fri 7:30am-10pm, 
Sat 8am-10pm and 
Sun 8am-4pm

Pumpkin Ravioli

When a whole, fresh pumpkin calls out to me from the kitchen bench, I like to do something a little above and beyond pumpkin soup to celebrate it's buttery glory. This recipe lets the pumpkin take centre stage and is great for a vegetarian dinner with friends. 'I'm coming little pumpkin... I'm coming!' 

* 1/2 brown onion- finely diced
* 400g butternut pumpkin- finely diced 
* splash oil, fresh basil- leaves shredded, salt & pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup chicken stock
* ravioli wrappers (we make our own and keep them in the   freezer cut and ready to go)
* 2 handfuls of fresh rocket leaves, washed and dried
* sunflower seeds- to garnish

Heat oil in large frypan. Fry off diced onion untiln soft and golden, toss in cubed pumpkin and cook until browned. Toss in shredded basil and stir through. Pour in chicken stock and simmer uncovered until stock has reduced and pumpkin is nice and soft- about 15-20mins. 
Season to taste with salt and pepper. When the mix is cooked and cool enough to handle, fill the ravioli wrappers.
Depending on the size of your wrappers, you will need about a 2 teaspoons filling. Seal the wrappers by brushing water along one edge, folding in half and pinching opposite edges together, making sure you squeeze out all air bubbles. 
When all ravioli are ready, cook in a pot of boiling water until pasta is just tender. Don't leave boiling for too long or the ravioli will burst.  
While the ravioli is cooking, heat a tablespoon of oil in a fry-pan, wilt the rocket in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Drain the ravioli and toss it through the rocket. Serve with crusty bread and garnished with a scattering of sunflower seeds. Delish! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Going Bush: in harsh climes native cuisine blossoms

"Jane de Graaff talks to Greg Dimopoulos of Native Oz Cuisine about the very personal connections linking the production of native Australian bush food and the indigenous communities who do it best."

Article featured on the brilliant food industry website:

Keep an eye out for the opening of the new indigenous restaurant Charcoal Lane- opening in August in Melbourne's Fitzroy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fully Stocked: Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder (Review)

It's rare that I dream of going back to a place for one particular dish. It's rarer again when my partner raves about a breakfast that he just can't get out of his head. 
This is one of those rare occasions.
Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder stole my partners heart long ago with the breakfast Baghdad eggs- it's a simple trick of eggs fried with garlic, lemon, cumin and mint, served on grilled flatbread, and for once, it's eggs with a real point of difference.
Don't get me wrong, we're not hard to impress, but when you love eggs for breakfast and you just feel like something a little above and beyond the standard poached/scramble/fry options... this is the goods.
It's backed up by 'RHCL famous cheesy toast'- and my god, it's famous for a reason. If you love a good Welsh rarebit, then you'll feel like you've hit the jackpot with the famous cheesy toast, and why not? When the cafe also has it's own cheese room and larder, they're bound to get it right! 
But it's about more than signature dishes at the Cafe & Larder, it's about style, service and stocking up before you head home.
This is a so-frenchy-so-chic kind of cafe venue, on the Hoddle street end of Bridge road. So you can relax in the wooden floor, bistro-chair surrounds before (or after) your bargain-hunt on the shopping strip. Just don't be alarmed by the faint waft of really good mould as the cheese-room door opens and shuts... I call it ambiance! 
Service is friendly, polite and discreet- with linen and water materialising as needed. Lunch is certainly seasonal and might be rabbit bruschetta, or risotto of morton bay bugs- but just to really mess you up, that famous cheesy toast is also on offer at lunch... what to do, what to do?
Other temping treats include rhubarb with rose geranium, porridge with vanilla poached quince or eggs with tasmanian salmon.  

The cafe is not generally open for dinner, as evenings are reserved for special events. But the first Friday of every month is the exception to this rule, when the cafe hosts an evening soiree. Bookings are recommended for this and you can purchase cheese from the cheese room to eat on the premesis or take home... so why not stock up?

The wine list is long and varied with an option for every budget: $28-$248, you're bound to find something amongst the Jansz bottles lining the walls. And if cheese really is your thing, pick up a pamphlet on their next cheese tasting/matching/making course. 
It's food love from every angle, truly a well stocked larder. 

Address: 48-50 Bridge Road, Richmond, Melbourne 3121
Phone: (03) 9421 2808
Open: 7 days for breakfast / brunch / lunch
(Lunch from 11:30am and afternoon tea from 3pm)
Note: Check website for Friday night soiree details, dates and booking.