TTWWD – Australian Gourmet

Although food is an art, it is not Art so there will be no pictures here. I do not wait until the food gets cold while photographing the plate. That said, there have been times when I have thought about it!

These are all places that I have visited from Perth, WA; through Melbourne, Vic and now Sydney, NSW. The company has been excellent, the food sometimes less so. I have not included any of the private meals I have enjoyed, though in some ways they have undoubtedly been the best. There is very little to beat a meal made and shared at home with friends, even though you then have to do the washing up!

Perth saw me in Tarts, a coffee shop that has started doing lunches and suppers. It has much to recommend it, a lovely situation, shaded tables outside and good food. I had a chicken salad with quinoa (pronounced keen-wa for the uninitiated), which was nicely presented. I cannot remember what my companions had, but there were no complaints! Going up a scale we went out to the Swan Valley Wineries and had a meal at Sandalfords, I think I have been there before but last time we approached from the river. The restaurant gives a choice of sitting inside, or under a canopy of vines, or on a covered verandah – we were on a table for three on the verandah. The food was good, the service was exceptionally slow! Three of us had a mixed hors d’oeuvres platter and chicken liver pate with brioche toast and followed this with tagliatelli served with prawns, chorizo and chilli. One diner had the full works, one had the dish mild (i.e. without extra chilli) and I had it without chilli or prawns. We eschewed pudding and had coffee/tea instead. Paying was problematic as the hand held card reader only worked in one place, near to the cash desk though not on it; connection was slower than slow and there was a queue of five other diners waiting to pay. Not a good day for any of us, I fear. We also went to a lovely cafe on Trigg Island, recently taken over by a chain and extended; this has a marvellous situation practically on the beach. The ocean stretches away in front, the beach in both directions, to the South the city of Perth and to the North more and more beach. The meal was OK. I had babaganoush dip and roasted capsicum dip with flat bread (and somebody’s hair) without which protein addition it would have been delicious – and to be entirely fair the maitre d’ was quite as horrified as I was and deducted my plate from the final bill. It was here that I discovered Garden Salad meant everything, french beans, sugar peas, raw onion, cucumber chunks, tomato plus a lot of lettuce…the toilets were very clean though which is more than can be said of a least one more expensive venue.

Melbourne, so I am told: Gourmet Centre of Victoria, possibly the whole of Australia – I didn’t have enough time to check it all out. We certainly went from the Sublime-to-the-Ridiculous in easy steps. My first meal out was at The Trocadero in the Hamar Complex on a rainy day, looking towards Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and Princess Bridge. Two companions had the tuna tartare, which was highly recommended and certainly looked very appetising, I cannot remember what the fourth member of the party had; I had a lamb sandwich – this arrived in a paper bag, the shredded lamb between two large thick slices of fried bread, dripping in high chloresterol (I might have spelt that wrongly), with a really nice chutney, I was a bit taken aback by the presentation and couldn’t manage ALL the bread, but I have no complaints about the taste. The highlights, for me, were Werribee Hall, lovely ambiance, beautiful dining room with a view into the gardens on the hottest day imaginable. A fierce hot wind blowing from the North made life away from air-conditioning pretty unbearable. We went for two courses, for the main course I had a delectable saffron gnocchi and a garden salad – by this time I had become aware that Garden Salad meant everything in the garden, so I had become more circumspect and asked for green leaves only, I still got cucumber and tomato (maybe they were green) but the dressing was delicious. There was an abundant choice of delectable puddings, all exquisitely presented but I wanted just burnt caramel orange ice-cream – this came in three scoops with a dusting of crystallised citrus sugar and a pansy flower. One of my companions had a triple-chocolate confection with a hooped tuile of chocolate biscuit, dark chocolate ice-cream and a mousse, with chocolate sauce that was poured over the hoop to trickle gently down – it looked utterly gorgeous, such that I have completely forgotten what my other companion had! In Braybrook, Victoria we went to The Ashley Hotel and had posh-nosh, gourmet pub food. Two of us had steak and chips, one had surf and turf (steak and prawns) and the other had lamb shank and mashed potato. It was simple but delicious, beautifully cooked and nicely presented with no fuss, no attempt at theatre, just jolly good food! On another occasion I had saffron gnocchi again, rather drowned in tomato sauce at the Pitruzzello Estate Restaurant on the way back from Macedon (and the No Picnic at Hanging Rock adventure). It was followed by a lovely pannacotta with berry compote. Once again I cannot remember what my companions had for the main course, but one of them had white chocolate cheesecake and the other had tiramisu for pudding. Pitruzzello is a vineyard and an olive grove estate, and for the olive products alone is worth visiting; though we were disgusted that they chose to display election posters in the restaurant, it matters not which party (and I will not give extra air-time to the member in question) it seems entirely inappropriate behaviour, and disrespectful to one’s guests. Our final really good meal was at Saga Hills, a Vietnamese restaurant in Footscray, we began with vegetarian rice paper rolls, with peanut dip and sweet chilli dip, fresh and delicious, one companion had chicken and sweet corn soup, the other two had won ton soup and I had rice noodle soup with crispy skinned chicken. The restaurant was packed, the food quite delicious, tasty and fresh and the best $44 dollars (for all four of us) I have spent in a long time!

At this point you may be wondering why, in the country of fine wines, I am not listing the vintages that I am imbibing? Sadly, I don’t drink alcohol.

So now to the low points! Firstly, in case they are all following me, I want to stress that in every case companionship is infinitely more important that food, so the duff meals have been endured gastronomically while the time passed all too swiftly, pleasantly catching-up with old friends.

The first disaster, and boy was it a disaster, was at the Crowne Plaza. The selected venue, among many alternatives, was Spice Temple, a Chinese restaurant. However, the night in question they were having an 80s theme. My host was asked to commit to this in advance without being informed that it was a banquet-style evening in the basement with music tracks from the same era at ear-splitting volume and therefore without any of the advantages of ambiance, space or style. He was also told that the style of the food though reminiscent of a typical 1980s Chinese menu would be served with a new twist. Goodness yes! The courses were banged down on the table with no ceremony. First Prawn Crackers for five, followed by Spring Rolls for five (double dipping with 2 complete strangers! Eergh!) Prawn Toast for 5; Crab Soup, at least that was served in separate bowls! By this time we had informed the waitress that I didn’t eat shellfish (I am actually allergic to them) and suddenly I was given Chop Suey! I haven’t eaten that since, well since the 80s! Then finally we had one really delicious dish: San Choi Bao: a mixture of meat, peanuts and spices wrapped in a lettuce leaf. What a relief, things were really looking up! It was followed by Sizzling Lamb and the piece de resistance: DEEP FRIED ICE-CREAM. Bad dreams are made of this, it was truly the most horrible thing I have ever been served. Thank goodness my sweet companions were worth it, it would otherwise have been a total disaster, irretrievable except for the fact that as we were leaving there were some of the famous Australian footballers also leaving at the same time – o joy! The second gastronomic collapse was at an RSL Club, I will not say which one. One fellow diner had lamb fry, requesting a small portion, when it came her meal would have fed a family of five! On that occasion I had the lamb shank, the meat was good, the accompanying vegetables were absolutely horrid and the mashed potato had obviously run out…enough said! We all agreed that it was terrible.

Sydney: skyscraper city with restaurants on every level including the sky! After a Cook’s Cocktail Tour round the harbour we went to Aria. This fine dining restaurant has a peerless position at the end of the toast-rack development looking straight on to the Sydney Opera House. We were served an amuse-bouche of potato & leek soup in a shotglass, with flaked crab (I was given one with flaked freeze dried garlic), I then had Duck Won Ton Soup and for my main course I had Blue Eye Trevalla (a fish which is very Australian) a white flesh that has the same texture and fall as a salmon, but with a much stronger flavour. It was served with braised ruby chicory and a rich reduction, with puree of (I think) artichoke. It looked and tasted wonderful. My host had tuna carpaccio for a starter, which also looked delicious but had shellfish as part of the garnish and she followed it with duck. Today I went to the New South Wales Art Gallery, and if you do nothing else in Sydney this is a must…but leave time to treat yourself to a meal in the restaurant. The view alone is wonderful, you look down through floor-to-ceiling windows at the old Cunard and P&O berths, which were threatened with demolition last time I was here and have miraculously been saved and turned into apartments and you look up at the green and leafy residences of Sydney, backed by the skyscrapers. The menu is spare but immaculate, I chose a pork cutlet served with a fig and apple sauce, with finely chopped Savoy cabbage and a thin slice of crisp dried apple with a side dish of green leaves – which was exactly that in a light lemon dressing, pure ambrosia. It looked and smelled delicious. I followed it with a berry tart: the lightest, crisp pastry filled with a vanilla creme and plenty of lovely fresh berries. Two flat whites to finish, after all the culture, I needed it.

I wish to add that both these Sydney restaurants have signed up to OzHarvest, the organisation which promotes the campaign NOT TO WASTE FOOD; a growing food awareness campaign so dear to my heart because Tristram is the prime mover of the UK based charity which campaigns for the same thing – http://www.Feeding5K.org and only today I had the privilege of meeting Ronni Kahn, the CEO of OzHarvest because F5K is coming to Sydney soon!

So congratulations to all the chefs (well not quite all of them!) and a big thank you to all my hosts.

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