Sunday, November 28, 2010


Already a huge fan/advocate (fanvocate?) of Bodega, I was pretty psyched when they opened Porteno, an Argentinean grillhouse/meat temple with a menu that looked pretty much awesome.

It’s the sort of thing that couldn’t go wrong.

But then... it kind of did.

We rocked up around 6.30 midweek to find the place nearly full, which was to be expected. A lot of the people that have given the place a negative review just haven’t understood how a no-bookings place works if it’s popular. PEOPLE TEND TO GO THERE. But, success, there was a table free.

After putting in our order we waited for the food to come. And waited. We got the bread pretty quick and that was fine, with a nice pate to go with. The smoked mackerel with palm hearts and avocado was also fantastic. As was the wine, which came of a wine list that was similarly excellent to that at Bodega.

But then, where was everything else? Were they cooking the 8 hour pork to order?

The wine was diminishing quickly and the water was barely getting ever getting topped up. The table next to us, who got their first dish around the same time as we did, finished their entire meal (with dessert) while we waited. We asked the waitress what was going on and only got “yeah, it’s coming” as a response. Oh, phew, because for a second there I was worried that it wasn’t.

So while we waited for an eternity for the rest of the food, we tried to ignore the fact that we were being ignored and do as most people do: talk. But this too was difficult with the noise in the place. I think it was just where our table was positioned, but fuck me it was hard to talk. It’s noisy at Bodega too, but I don’t really mind. Maybe it’s because it’s a small place (and I usually have food in front of me)? Like, maybe the smallness makes the diner think that they’re in the middle of an intimate party or something stupid like that? But at Porteno, it’s more like being part of a huge migration of cattle?

The food finally came (all at once) (after another group had been seated next to us and received their first course) and it was damn good, as expected. Veal sweetbreads melted in the mouth; the morcilla was packed with flavour, beautifully soft and paired well with roasted capsicum; and the suckling pig was salty, sweet, crunchy and tender all at once. It managed to go nicely with the half of glass of wine I’d rationed off.

I think I ordered the polenta too, but that never arrived. Forgot to check the bill at the end to see if we’d been charged.

Still a little hungry, we went for dessert. The Argentinean pavlova was a nice mix of texture and flavour. The burnt milk custard or whatever it was definitely tasted good, but struck me as the poor-man’s version of the banana split at Bodega. The custard was collapsing slightly, and the pieces of popcorn added the right flavour, but the texture was a bit strange. Still, a top dessert though.

I left, wondering what happened.

That “dining experience” (TM) was heavily influenced by the average service and the ridiculous wait between courses. But what caused it?

I wanted an excuse I could use to forgive everything.

Opening jitters? Not really, it’s been open a while and thousands of people have poured through the door already so they should be with it by now. Maybe that waitress was new, or she just wasn’t getting it?

Maybe the kitchen had an off day? By arrive at 6.30 we would have been among the last tables to put in our orders from the first sitting. Did they hit the wall? Was it just a once off?

Maybe it was only our table that copped all of the noise in the place?

But try as I might, I just couldn’t find an excuse for them. My meal at Porteno was average. The service was either forgettable or in line with a place that seats around 3 million people; the acoustics of the place meant that the noise was too much; the wait between the mackerel and the rest was just ridiculous; and I’m almost certain I ordered the polenta, yet it never arrived.

While the food was undeniably great, I’m hesitant to go back. Maybe I’ll go back again, once, if only to try the lamb. But if the service is average and there’s another huge wait for the food then I don’t see any point in returning. And I think the pretty young things in their “dresses” and “shoes” will agree with me. Right now it’s buzzing on hype, but that only lasts for so long. Surely it can't always be like this? I want this place to be so good. So much.

RATING: Pending.

Porteno on Urbanspoon

RECIPE: Polenta with parmigiano reggiano and olive oil

Good flavours; Simplicity; Comfort.

Make the polenta as per the packet directions.
Towards the end stir in a knob of good butter and handful or so (depends how much you make) of grated parmigiano reggiano.

Serve with some shavings of parmigiano reggiano, a bit of freshly ground black pepper and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

RECIPE: Better Than Spain: Chocolate ice cream, dark chocolate smear, fried brioche, olive oil, coffee and sugar roasted peanuts

Inspired first by the BTS dessert at Sydney restaurant House. And secondly by the traditional Spanish dessert of chocolate on bread with olive oil.

Dark chocolate smear:
Over a double-boiler, melt 100g of the highest percentage cocoa chocolate you can find. I used 85%.
Add a heaped tablespoon of thickened cream.
Stir through and cool. Refrigerate.
Take it out of the fridge well before serving so it liquefies.

Cut some brioche in to chunks and pan fry over a low-medium heat with a stack of butter. Try to avoid getting too much colour (the above picture shows what to avoid).

Roughly ground some peanuts with some coffee beans and some brown sugar. Roast in an oven until the nuts are cooked.
Once cool, ground further.

Either make your own chocolate ice cream (look for a recipe online) or buy some.

To assemble, smear some of the dark chocolate on a plate. Scatter some brioche. Add a generous scoop of the ice cream. Spoon over a teaspoon of the peanut mix. Drizzle over some good olive oil.

Serve it with a good imperial Russian stout or some pedro ximenez.

Friday, November 26, 2010

RECIPE: Cider braised pork shoulder, pan juice reduction, peanut smear

Apple and pork. A classic combination that I never tire of.

Especially when faced with a roasted shoulder, crackling reaching towards the sky, reaching for my bra strap (I have serious manboobs).


Preheat the oven as high as Wu-Tang Gets it goes. For my gas powered oven, it is MYSTERY SETTING!
Patdry the skin of the pork. Score it if your butcher hasn't. Rub salt into the wound.
Rub the rest of the best in salt, pepper, fennel, olive oil, mustard seeds.
Submerge the beast (leaving the skin unsubmerged, pointing up) in a mix of 75% apple cider (alcoholic, French type), 25% vegetable stock.
Put it in the searing oven until the cracking is sufficient.
Drop the temp to around 120c, cover with foil, leave for around 12 hours (check after 9/10) until the bone slides out easy.
I like to jack the oven right up at the end to invigorate the crackling.

Drain the fat from the juices and pour them into a saucepan.
Reduce over a high heat until gravy consistency. Cheat with some cornstarch if you like.

For the peanut smear, grind up 3 tablespoons of peanuts until they're dust. Add a generous pinch of salt and a pinch of brown sugar.
Into a saucepan with 2 cups of apple cider (as above).
Reduce until it's a thick syrup.

On the side, maybe baked apple and potato. Maybe some cabbage braised in cider. Your choice. But it's all secondary to the pork.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Google Fail

Um.... No?

RECIPE: Oyster Tartare with Pancetta, Potato and Mango

Oysters. Chopped.
Pancetta and Potato. Diced. Fried over a low heat (the pancetta should go soft, not crisp).
Mango. Fine dice.

Layer it so the sea is on the bottom (oyster), then the ground (pancetta and potato), then the tree (mango).

Serve in something which encourages the eater to get a bit of everything on the spoon at once. Salty/sweet is one contrast. But the unctuousness of the fat and the oyster being cut by the mango is another. The potato is really just to bulk the dish out.

Serving suggestion is the Chandon ZD. Ultra crisp sparkling wine that doesn't influence the very clear flavours of the dish. A clean Blanc de Blanc would also work, but anything else could distort the taste.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ARTICLE: On The Transformational Properties of Eating Food in Europe

After eating my way across some of Europe’s most culinary countries, I began to reflect on my time spent at tables. Had anything actually changed? Or had I just spent a lot of time and money to just eat more food; food that I pretty much could get back home? The answer was, most definitely, things changed.

It was actually subtle things which changed. But they were subtle things which can add up and completely change a dining experience.


The birth of the aperitif/aperitivo. To be honest, I previously used ‘aperitif’ as a wanky term to describe a style of drink. But in Italy and France I was completely won over by the aperitif. Maybe it was because I was relaxed and I was on holiday (and I didn’t have much of a budget), but I hit the aperitifs. I hit them hard. A cool glass of champagne and something to nibble on is an absolutely spectacular way to start a meal (or prepare for an impending one) when you’re sitting down for a leisurely eating session. If you’re in a rush, obviously there is little point (apart from the normal thrill of champagne).

Oddly, the changing perception of the aperitif also totally changed my perception of .est, one of only three Sydney restaurants to hold three hats in the Good Food Guide (along with Quay and Marque). When I visited it, I really disliked it. One of the main reasons for the dislike was the champagne cart offering when you arrived. Get fucked, I don’t want you to rape me with a glass of Krug. Europe told me that, yes, I do want to be fucked by your glass of Krug. I’m in a good restaurant, why not go nuts. If I’m paying $300 for a dinner with wine, then what’s another $30? I should be treating it as a special occasion, not a regular dinner. That said, the food still isn’t that great for that level of fine dining.

Cheese. Cheese how I loved thee. And how I love thee. Still, with a love of cheese already, Europe totally transformed my view of cheese and, more specifically, the cheese course. What could be better than a few perfectly ripened pieces of cheese before dessert? Nothing, really (ed: plenty of things). But the cheese in Europe was actually ripe. It was incredible. Utter perfection. If only everyone in Sydney wanted a cheese course, then restaurants would actually be able to perfectly ripen cheese. At the moment, I think it has to be impossible to serve perfectly ripe cheese and make money from it, with so few people actually opting for a cheese course. But they fucking well should. A good glass of red and a selection of cheeses at their absolute peak is a thing of beauty. And Australia makes good damn cheese, so let’s do this shit. Australians: get the cheese course.

Mushrooms. I used to hate mushrooms as a child. In the last few years I tried more and I realised that I wasn’t sure. Before hitting Europe I realised that I only hated badly cooked mushrooms. After hitting Europe—in the middle of mushroom season—I realised that I LOVED mushrooms. They are now my wife and husband. A perfectly cooked mushroom is a thing of utter beauty. Like the refreshing sweetness of a watermelon tastes like summer, a dish of well-cooked mushrooms tastes like Autumn. I want more.

Sparkling water. This got me bad. So freakin’ bad. Because of their hideous tap water, it appeared that the Europeans didn’t drink a lot of the stuff at restaurants. In fact, it was so horrible I struggled to drink it anywhere. It became one of the first words I’d memorise when we entered a new country. Yes, no, please, thank you, sparkling water. The bare essentials. Arriving home, I got the horn for it. The itch. I can’t get enough of it. San Pellegrino was the best, but I can take nearly anything just to satisfy the craving. Before coming home I realised that I was addicted. But I was worried. I spent a good 30 minutes in the hotel room in (I think) Zaragoza, researching if there were any negative health impacts of drinking sparkling water. I couldn’t find any, so when I got home I hit up Norton St Grocers for a shitload of the stuff. Since then, it hasn’t left the fridge (or cooler—backup).

Sadness over produce. This made me feel pretty bad, really. The cheeses over there are in another world to here. The retailers actually know how to mature a cheese. Even the cheap supermarket cheeses could compare with the best things we have here. Salumi/cured meats? Forget about it. Italy was a mindfuck of great salumi. Good lardo. Where is that around here? The fruit in Italy and France? Wow! Ripe, seasonal and packed with flavour. And you can actually get decent stuff in a normal supermarket. Incredible.

So, yes, things have changed. Not only have my dining habits changed, but my attitudes towards produce have changed (that sounds so damn wanky) as a result of this trip. It was edutainment at it’s finest!

RECIPE: Appetiser/Palate Cleanser. Melon Gazpacho, Crispy Jamon, Cream

Melon Gazpacho:
Stale bread (no crusts)
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
Ice (lots)


Sour Cream
Add a little water
A little olive oil
Salt and Pepper


Crispy Jamon:
Slices of jamon/prosciutto

Bake on a medium heat in the oven until dry and crisp. Crumble.


Monday, November 22, 2010

RECIPE: Appetiser. The Foie Gras Croissant


Chunks of croissant.
Chunks of pan-fried foie gras.
Muscat jelly to reduce the buttery/livery sweetness.
Chervil for a little freshness.

Friday, November 19, 2010

RECIPE: Appetiser. Orange and Sardine Toasts

Sliced baguette, rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled
2 orange segments
1 half of a marinated sardine fillet
A few pieces of finely shaved fennel
Garnished with some fennel fronds

The important thing is to nail to orange to sardine ratio. Test it first. Your oranges/sardines may be (will be) different to mine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

RECIPE: Appetiser. Buffalo Mozzarella

On tomato-rubbed bread.
With basil.
Olive oil.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RECIPE: Pietro Ximenez's Suitcase

This cocktail was inspired by my recent trip around Europe.

The journey started in Rome, where I was given a bottle of delicious, aged grappa for my birthday. Because grappa is such a strong drink and because I wasn't doing a lot of drinking in the hotel room, I found myself carting this with me as we went from city to city. In Barcelona, we purchased a really nice bottle of pedro ximenez which, again, didn't get finished and joined the convoy.

In Zaragoza I was getting tired of having a liquor cabinet slowly growing in my luggage. So I got to drinking. One idea was to mix the pedro ximenez with the grappa to both cut the sweetness of the pedro xim with the aniseedy flavour of the grappa, and to cut the strength and burn of the grappa. It was nice enough (and, more importantly, got rid of the booze on hand) but I knew it had more potential.

- 2 parts iced tea (I made this myself because you don't want it sweet)
- 1 part grappa
- 1 part pedro ximenez
- 1 thick piece of orange zest (squeeze it a little before adding it)
- Tiny splash of brandy

Mix it over a shitload of ice in a lowball, stir, charge with a little sparkling water.

A damn fine drink to sip on. Sweet, viscous, refreshing.

Blogging and Microblogging United

Hi blog fans (ed: there are none, I checked the stats),

I got the Twitter (might want to get yourself tested). Follow me around if you want to get updates on my blog posts, other food related things, rap with swearing in it and/or hate towards macarons.

I've had it for a week or so, which is around 60 years in internet life, so I'm pretty sure it'll be here forever.

Or don't. I don't really care. I'm pretty self absorbed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

ARTICLE: The Future/Death of Food Writing; A hastily written piece of rant-trash

For anyone that actually follows this blog with any interest (ed: there is no one, I checked the stats) you may have noticed an increased focus on the blog in the last couple of months. See... I care. I care about food. And I like to write. Which means that I can about food writing. So I do it. Right?

But I don’t do things by half measures. When I do something, I want to do it well. So I was sitting around, thinking on how to approach food writing—how to do it brilliantly. What I came to realise is that food writing is pretty much doomed.

People have changed since newspapers started adding food reviews to their papers. Social media has completely changed the face of non-news media. If we want to find out about a new restaurant or bar that opened recently, do we wait for a publication to publish a review? Hell naw. We hit up blogs, Twitter, Google, whatever. We have a veritable dossier of information on every new place that opens before even having taking a bite or a sip.

And this media doesn’t just have the tired old 500 word column. No. It has hi definition photos taken on a 10 megapixel digital SLR camera. And, fuck it, I’m viewing it on a 20 inch LCD screen over a band that can only be described as BROAD.

All within the first week of a new place opening, if it’s in the right location (or reaches out to enough people willing to give it a write-up).

How does traditional food writing survive? Through bloody good food writing? Get the Pulizter ready. Maybe not. (hold the Pulitzer)

Because blogging appears to have killed the linguistic star. Such is the proliferation of food writing (namely restaurant reviews) that entire phrases can be killed in a week. How many times have we heard phrases like “meltingly tender” or “sinfully rich”? Back in the days of print media we could at least wait a week before the next restaurant review appeared and the reviewer pulled out their tired old formula. But now...

Now, in the age of instant gratification, you can sign up to so many avenues of social media that you can get a dozen people describing the very same dish in the space of just a week. How many ways are there to describe the same thing? The accountants inside us say that there is only one way to describe something: the right way. The artist inside us says that there are many ways to describe it. The public ready the description of the item says that there is but a few ways of describing something in a way that keeps them coming back.

A post happened on the internet a few days ago, on The Food Blog. The question was asked: how would you describe a steak?

The answer from every proper, published, food writer? The same way as each other.

The answer from nearly every food blogger? The same way as the food writer, but not as good, but with more pictures so it’s cool, right?

Proper food writers, when they’re really firing, are poetic. They’re moving. They DRIVE you to the food with language so evocative you can almost taste it. But that’s only when they’re firing. And how evocative can you be when language is set in stone? There are only so many terms and phrases that can be used. So the question remains: how do you describe a steak, having to be poetic, moving, descriptive and critical, yet moving?

But proper food writers... they’re following a formula, aren’t they? The Modern Day Food Writing Formula (TM) of beginning with a non-restaurant related phrase (I had to do a review, but my cat was asking for food), writing your review about the food, throwing in some facts, ending with a callback to the non-restaurant related phrase (this place left me purring for more). It’s just as predictable as the blog next door that posts photos of every course and describes every course as good.

Hypothetical. You—a proper food writer—describe it well. You describe a steak so perfectly (and originally) that people can identify with it and, most importantly, they can identify with it. They can taste it. They feel the heady combination of oil and fat and blood run down the side of their mouth reading your review. Something deep inside them aches to bring that feeling to reality by actually visiting that place.

Food bloggers read your review. They love it. They process the way you wrote that review. Elements of it permeate that horrible beast known to some as the “Blogosphere”.

When was the last time you heard the phrase "gossimer-thin" in real life? Never. When was the last time you saw it in a restaurant review? Last week? A proper writer used that term once. Then it proliferated.

Your description has lost all punch. Over time it’s lost all meaning, as the phrase is pulled in hundreds of directions. And the food bloggers aren’t doing too well either. Their readers are getting a sort of phrase fatigue from reading the same descriptor over and over; from a myriad of sources. But the pictures keep them happy.

But can pictures keep people happy for long enough?

Every blog is in competition with the other. The internet is not aware of the term “brand loyalty”. If you slip up for long enough, you lose your readership. At the moment they like you because you review a lot of places, you make stuff they want to make and (most importantly) you take a lot of pictures (3D, right?). But you slack off and you’re gone.

So where does food writing go? Good writers struggle to win because they aren’t writing as frequently as bloggers. Bloggers can’t win because they’re nothing but vessels for pictures and information. And they’re just as susceptible to “cliché fatigue” as a published food author.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter.

Writers write for the masses—for mass adulation. Our culture of instant gratification has told us to seek that. And maybe writing at a tolerable level and having lots of pictures is enough for that.

But with food writing gaining an increasing presence amongst “traditional” writing can we settle for that? Sure, the cream will rise to the top, but should we settle for cream rising above mediocrity?

So maybe it does matter.

But the challenge now, as I see it, is for someone to capture the future of food writing. That person will have the ability of being able to review places en masse without growing stale. Most importantly, they’ll be able to describe a great steak in a way that won’t bore us.

The challenge is to use the current media landscape to tap into the zeitgeist of people reading about food and deliver both a truly exceptional media experience, and truly exceptional writing. About that topic which so many of us love: food.

Friday, November 05, 2010

RESTAURANT: District Dining

There are too many new restaurants opening up in Sydney.

Seriously, it's ridiculous. Can't these people foresee the trouble they're in? How is anyone going to become a regular at your restaurant when there are approximately 62 new restaurants opened every day (Surry Hills figures only at this stage--waiting for more info from the Aus Bureau of Statistics)?

I've watched them, and the reaction is either laughter (you are so destined to go out of business it is not funny--but it is) or nervousness (I don't want you to fail, but there is a lot working against you, dude. District Dining falls into the latter category.

It's run by Warren Turnbull, you see. The same guy that does great work over at Assiette. But instead of fine dining, it's more of an upmarket bistro, with the focus on various meats and various offcuts.

Sounds good right? Right!

Looking at the menu, I want it all. I reckon I could probably eat it all before dying, too. If I eat fast enough.

We kick things off with the charcuterie plate and it's good, but the memory of Italian meat is still too fresh in my mind to say it's anything more than good.

They charge for bread here, which is odd, particularly because the charcuterie doesn't come with bread for free.

Next up the quail with chutney, brioche and pomegranate. Great dish. The quail is perfectly cooked. It reminds me of the other quails I've eaten, that are now poorly cooked in comparison. The rest of the ingredients only add more levels of excellent to the dish.

I ordered the lamb shoulder with cumin/honey/baby carrots because it's a bit of a yardstick. I've had some good lamb shoulders and if I'm being arrogant I can make a good lamb shoulder. A mean one, even. Turns out... Warren Turnbull makes a pretty good one too. Heavy on the fat, so, coupled with the honey, it's an oddly sweet dish. But nice.

Pork belly with kim chee? Very good. Smoked eel pate? Very good. Wine list? Good, if a bit pricey.

For an upmarket pub bistro, District Dining is nearly impossible to fault. I'll be back, because there is still so much goodness in that menu still to be found (pork head!).

RATING: Will return to [?]

District Dining on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 04, 2010

RESTAURANT: Charlie & Co Burgers (Charlie & Co 2: Charlie & Co Harder)

After the teething problems of the opening day last week, I was keen to head back to Westfield Sydney and back to, more specifically, Justin North's Charlie & Co Burgers.

Just to be safe, I waited for a day where I had enough time to spend 45 minutes waiting for a burger during my lunchbreak. Ironically, that day was the day I went to Charlie & Co Burgers again.

I arrived just after 12 and there was already a queue about 10 deep with people. Looks like this place is catching on.

But the line moved pretty quickly, and within a few minutes I was sitting with one of those buzzer things, waiting for my federation burger with onion rings (oh, hi, healthy food pyramid).

Expecting to wait for around half an hour, I was caught of guard when it started buzzing after only 10-15 minutes. Success!

I got my items and consumed.

The federation burger, packed with eggs and bacon and Australian things was good. Not as good as the glorious wagyu burger, but still a good burger. It was made a little sweeter when I discovered how to eat these burgers without having to either break your jaw to get your mouth around or biting off corners and wearing the burger on your face: just eat it upsidedown.

The onion rings were also pretty ace. Lightly crumbled on the outside, soft onion on the inside, rock salt swimming around. My body didn't care for the saturated fat associated with an entire box of the things, but my tastebuds enjoyed them thoroughly.

So what's the verdict?

Well, they've done it. If the wait is kept down to these sort of levels then this is a fantastic burger eating destination if you don't mind spending 10-16$ on a burger or toasted sandwich. We need little indulgences in life every now and then, so I've already made plans to go again next week.

RATING: Will return to [?]

Charlie & Co Burgers on Urbanspoon