Tag Archives: live music

Melbourne Day 5 – to the coast and back

Melbourne Day 5

Sunday morning we woke to a cool morning that showed promise of sunshine, which was perfect for our planned agenda: a trip southwest of Melbourne to the coast, to visit a few of the towns along the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s reported most beautiful seaside drives.

As the hotel was packed for brunch, we decided to grab a snack on the way out of town, and our local hostess took us over to a small café and food shop owned by one of Melbourne’s most well known chefs and cookbook authors, Stephanie Alexander. The Richmond Hill Café and Larder is part café, serving great, simple, well prepared food, and part food shop, selling seasonings, condiments, books, and equipment. In addition, the have the most fantastic cheese room that boasts racks and racks of aging cheeses beautifully displayed along with fine wines. I made a note to come back and pick up bread and cheese for lunch one day.

Armed with a few fresh muffins and coffee, we headed out of town on the M1 towards Geelong. The drive south took us about 1oo km down to the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Winding along the coast west from just south of Geelong to Portland, the seaside route hugs the coastline, winding up and down through a series of picturesque little towns and offers a breathtaking view of the ocean which stretches South to Tasmania and beyond to Antarctica.

We were headed about 80 km along the road, and drove through Anglesea, stopped for a photo op at the Big Hill, a rocky bluff that had posed some challenges during the road construction following the first world war. We wound down towards Lorne, stopping briefly as an echidna crossed the road. The small mammal resembles a porcupine, but is more closely related to the platypus as the world’s only other surviving monotreme (a mammal that lays eggs).

Once in Lorne, we stopped for a coffee on the pier, and walked through the local fish shop, and then made our way the last 16 km to Wye River. We pulled up to the Wye River Hotel, and had a delicious pub lunch, starting with some warm olives served with sourdough bread and Moroccan spices to share, and then fish and chips, made with local whiting. We tried the local beer, the Otway ale, and enjoyed the view from the glass walled patio with an amazing view of the sea.

Turning back to the city, we were fortunate to get some pictures of a few sleeping koalas in the gum trees. At Anglesea we pulled up beside the golf course for another set of pictures, as they have had an ongoing problem with kangaroos all over the course. There was a pack of about 20 enjoying the fairway grass, and when a foursome played through, barely raised an eyebrow.

We got back to the city around 6:00 and had plans to go to The Night Cat,
a local club which featured live latin music on Sundays. The concierge informed us that the Spanish Festival was on in Fitzroy that evening as well, so we took a cab the few km to check it out. There were 2 blocks of Johnston Street blocked off, packed with street vendors selling food, drink, and a stage with live music at one end. The Night Cat offered drop in salsa lessons before the band started, so we joined in with the rest of the house, before grabbing a table to enjoy the live band, an 18 piece afro-cuban group called Los Cabrones. The place was packed on a Sunday night, with a crowd of mostly young folks having a great time, and we were treated to some great latin dancers on the floor surrounding the stage.




Melbourne, Day 2: East, West, and fusion

Day 2 in Melbourne started with breakfast in the newly renovated hotel restaurant here at the Grand Hyatt. They have gone with a beautiful, open design conveying the feel of a working kitchen, with the chefs working and doing their prep on the stations and service areas around them. Everything was really fresh and well prepared, and because the prep areas are right there, always fully stocked.

After an initial morning meeting, we started to plan our week here, and most importantly where and when we would eat. I had my list of places that I had scouted, and our hosts had a number of additional suggestions in the city and surrounding areas. After a quick visit to one of the culinary schools here, we picked up a business associate at the airport and headed back downtown for a late lunch.

The European, aptly named, is a narrow restaurant nestled beside the historic Princess Theatre, directly across from the Parliament buildings. As you walk through the tall doors, you would swear you were in an old French bistro, small wooden tables and a long bar gracing the dark wood panelling, and chalkboards with the daily specials, and wine selections.

Features included two kinds of local shellfish, a couple of pastas, two daily fish dishes, and a veal scallopine. After perusing the menu and wine list, We ordered some of the featured Coffin Bay oysters to start, which I hear were exceptional, briny, and plump. (due to a reaction years ago, I haven’t eaten oysters in years, but I enjoy hearing about the nuances of them from those who do.) I ordered some of the crispy School Prawns, a small shrimp quickly deep fried and served with a romesco aioli and fresh lemon. They were very fresh and tasty, with a briny sweet finish.

For main courses, a few at the table ordered mushroom risotto, while I had the farfalle alla siciliana, bowtie pasta with ripe tomato, basil, and anchovy with garlic and olive oil. Simple but delicious, with a glass or two of pinot grigio to wash it all down. For dessert, we elected to share two offerings, a parfait with a fig and pecan crust and roasted fruit, and a tiramisu.

Following an afternoon of work, we retired to the hotel, and then regrouped for a beverage before heading out for the evening. I had scoped out the local music scene, and we headed to a small club in West Melbourne called Spenser’s Live to see a quartet of some of Australia’s finest fusion musicians: Brett Garsed, Phil Turcio, Craig Newman, and Gerry Pantzis. They played a fantastic 90 minute set of inspiringly tight, textured, and smooth instrumentals, after which we were famished.

It was creeping onto midnight, so we decided to follow a recommendation I had read about online. Anytime a restaurant is touted as the place the local chefs go after work, you know two things: the food will be good, and reasonably priced. We headed over to Supper Inn in a deluge, the first rain in awhile here, and after scaling a narrow staircase, came into just what I would expect, a busy room full of bodies young and old, and the smells of great Chinese cooking.

We ordered 5 things:

Hot and sour soup, which was packed full of meat, shrimp, and vegetable, crispy skin chicken with special sauce, which was crisp on the outside, moist and tender inside, with a light but very tasty glaze, fried rice with pork and shrimp (enough said), pork spareribs with mandarin sauce, which were crispy with a sweet sticky sauce clinging to them, and shiitake mushrooms and shanghai bok choy, caramelized and so packed with flavour one of my dining companions described them as the best shiitake mushrooms she had ever tasted. I would have to agree, and after a night of several beers, great music, and finally another great meal, we settled in for the night.




Merry Christmas!

I want to thank all of you for being a part of my journey through a big change in my life. This fall has just been the beginning of what I hope are many stories and recipes about food and cooking in this amazing part of the world. Here’s a little montage I put together of some of this year’s highlights, set to a familiar sounding tune I recorded when I had a few hours to spare over the last couple of days.

Merry Christmas, see you all in 2008


Busy weekend, easy dinner

This weekend was quite busy, so Sunday dinner became a bit of an afterthought. Saturday I was out all day helping my friend and former sous chef Jeff van Geest cater a wedding for some dear friends of ours, Gary and Naty King from Hazelmere Organic Farms, whose eldest daughter (one of a set of twins, I might add) was getting married, with the reception being held at the family farm. I had gone out the day before for some advance preparation, and most of the food was being prepared and brought in from the restaurant, but an early day was still in order to prepare for the 180 guests. Jeff and I were out early, getting things organized, doing some of the final details, and conversing on the logistics of the afternoon. There was over 50 lb of bison that had been marinated and sent down from Fort St. John, 4 large spring salmon, and 50 chickens, which had been quartered. deboned, and marinated in an apricot five spice barbecue sauce that Jeff had made. 180 pounds of charcoal, 2 large barbecues, plus 2 gas grills were at the ready, so all was looking fine.

Around noon, the mother of the bride came into the kitchen with some troubling news: the pastry chef who had made the wedding cake had run out of time and had not prepared a special cake for the bride, who has wheat and dairy allergies. “Maybe he’s joking?” I asked, but was reassured that it was no jest. “Ok, what do you have? Chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, eggs? Bring me some of everything and we’ll make it happen,” I assured. I figured to make a collapsed chocolate souffle of sorts, making a batter with chocolate, eggs, and sugar, and then adding a large quantity of ground nuts to keep it from rising too much and making a nice dense torte. Dried fruit would make a nice compote for a sauce, and all order would be restored. The ingredients arrived from the barn, 70% organic chocolate, a dozen eggs, a pound of organic hazelnuts, and a cup of dried cherries. A springform pan was rustled up, lightly oiled with some hazelnut oil, and set to rest. The nuts went into the oven for a light roasting to remove their skins, once done they were transferred to the freezer to cool quickly. I put hot water in a large pot,and brought it up to a boil, turned it off, and chopped the chocolate into a bowl to set on top. The eggs were separated, yolks in one bowl with some sugar, whites in another for the Kitchen Aid. Yolks whisked to ribbon stage, I added the melted chocolate, whipped the whites and folded them in. The hazelnuts, now cooled were quickly rubbed and skins removed, processed into a coarse meal in the food processor, and after I grabbed a half cup for an impromptu crust, the rest folded into the batter. Into the oven at 375, check it in 35 minutes, I thought, and then popped together the compote quickly with a simple syrup, some spices, and the cherries.

Balance restored to the Force, we returned our thoughts to dinner, and carried on with the afternoon. The fire was stoked, bison and chicken grilled and cared for lovingly, salmon was baked with a delicious hazelnut basil pesto, a few nice salads and vegetables from the farm, and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. The bride was happy and none the wiser about the cake mishap, and we settled in to enjoy the festivities once it was all over, which bring us to Sunday.

Still feeling somewhat groggy from the previous night’s festivities, Sunday’s meal preparations became a quick and easy decision: A simple grilled steak and baked potato with some green beans for dinner, and a beef stew to prepare for Monday, so we could eat quickly after our son’s football game. A quick survey of the fridge: lots of carrots and sweet onions from the market still, needed some celery and other vegetables for the stew; steak, potatoes, and mushrooms needed for dinner. A quick trip to the produce store and butcher yielded the necessary provisions, and I set about for a quick and easy afternoon prep session. A couple of pounds of beef stew, seasoned nicely, floured and seared to a nice brown; the onion, celery, carrot, and turnip sauteed until just a touch of colour was present; and then a can of diced tomatoes, a bit of stock and herbs, and left to simmer for the afternoon. No recipes necessary for the steak: a serious rubdown with steak spice, coarse salt, and olive oil, a quick flash in the grill pan and into a hot oven to finish alongside the baked potatoes; a splash of olive oil into a couple of pans to saute a thinly sliced Walla Walla onion and some mushrooms to accompany (cooked separately to appease our resident mushroom hater) and the beans trimmed and plunged in boiling water. A satisfying repast, devoured quietly, and nothing left over. Success in its simplest form. The clan fed, stew turned off for tomorrow, to be joined by some bread or quick biscuits, and Dad was off to see legendary guitar god Steve Vai play at the Commodore.

Around midnight, I returned, both thoroughly inspired and amazed by the 3 hours of unrelenting instrumental heroics of the entire ensemble, I placed the cooled stew in the fridge to be enjoyed tomorrow, and toddled off to bed.

(special thanks to Simon Blackwell for not only his expert help, but with the fine pictures as well)