Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dinner at home (and da Paolo Gastronomia)

Originally uploaded by daveyll.
I finally got around to cooking a nice dinner at home. I'm missing European, esp. Italian food. So tonight I went Italian. Previously that day I'd visited Da Paulo Gastronmia in Cluny Court. I'd mistakenly thought it was a new stand alone mom&pop affair, when in fact it was just a new outlet of a successful Italian traiteur/deli. They sell good fresh pasta, and I was hoping to get some high quality storecupboard staples, e.g. boutique balsamic vinegar, spicy olive oils, De Cecco dried pasta, passata, etc.

Originally uploaded by daveyll.
Unfortunately they cater more to cooks-who-don't-cook rather than cooks-who-do. An astonishing variety of Italian desserts, salads, grilled vegetables and pasta dishes are available chilled and pre-packaged. They sell one type of dried pasta, two types of balsamic vinegar (a very basic brand, along with a super expensive organic one) and commercially produced olive oil. None of what I was led to imagine by their gourmet sounding write-up in TimeOut.

I'll say that they do have an impressive range of Italian wines. But drinking wine in this country is a real luxury when the taxes bring it to around three times the cost in UK and Australia. They do have a good range of continental hard cheeses and fly in their Parma ham. Their coffee sucks, but their baristas just push a button and use sachets of pre-ground coffee beans.

Originally uploaded by daveyll.
I got pasta, buffalo mozzarella and balsamic vinegar from here; decent prices for Singapore, not too bad. The nearby Cold Storage supermarket provided the other essentials for tonight's dinner - smoked salmon, strawberries and fresh herbs. I made a pesto with pecorino and basil - they claimed not to have any parmigiano; something I'm a bit incredulous about as it is, after all, a general purpose Italian deli. Later on I spied some hiding underneath the ham; the shop assistant must not have noticed - and I've snobbishly decided that Grana Padano is beneath me.

Originally uploaded by daveyll.
We had soy and linseed bread from Cedele with an olive oil and balsamic dipping bowl. I'd put in some snipped red chilli and a few grains of lightly crushed cumin seed for a bit of interest.

Then we had the buffalo mozzarella and beef tomato salad - which was filling enough, but we moved onto the chicken saltimbocca. I'd used tarragon as I'm still exploring the nuances of this herb since discovering how it tastes about six months ago. I'd originally planned to use the snowpeas as the green garnish to provide interest to the plate; but snowpeas and fish go very well, so I moved them to the next dish. I used chopped remnants of the beef tomatoes (near the stem and round part) to make a crushed tomato jus from the frying pan.

Originally uploaded by daveyll.
The Parma was faultless - sweet, salty and full of flavour. It crisped up nicely on frying. The chicken breasts were a tad overdone, but not overly so. I'd defrosted and halved one I had in the freezer. Then we moved onto the straw-and-hay pasta with smoked salmon cream sauce. I made a quick sauce by gently heating double-cream with NZ smoked salmon slices. The infusion of oily smoky fish into the unctuous whiteness made a delicate sauce that gently coated the pasta.

We finished with some strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and raw sugar.

I wished Leon were here to eat this with me. I kept thinking of how this is the sort of treat I'd make for us after we hadn't seen each other for a while; or something I'd do to try to make up for periods when I was taking him for granted.

I thought that this is the sort of thing one might do to try to impress someone; but my dining companion seemed non-plussed - he enjoyed it well enough. Maybe he was trying not to be impressed at something I seemed to carry off so 'effortlessly' (I wish). Mind you, I didn't set out to try to impress - just to cook a nice meal at home.

My local


I live near a 24h food court. So, I need never worry about running out of food. There's also a 24h supermarket round the corner. It's best to eat during normal hours though, what's there at midnight and beyond can be a little greasy and dried up; or stewed to death.

But this place is full of gangly old Chinese men laying about. You can see two of them playing Chinese chess in the top photo. They remind me of my grandfather - how they sit, they look, they smoke and their general demeanour.


You can see the inventive use of traffic cones as pot plant stands in the next photo.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dinner party

Wine glasses
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
I went to a dinner party at a place lovingly known as Tommytown; a fabulous mansion near Holland V.

There's something elegant about a long table set with a multitude of shimmering and sparkling wine glasses. We drank a Penfolds Chardonnay 2000, which was absolutely delicious, and a couple of Australian cab savs which were too bold for my palate. I think I prefer merlot blends.

Originally uploaded by daveyll.
We started with a broccoli soup, then had a butter-fried cod fillet with sweet bean (meen see) and baby asparagus. We had succulent Australian beef steaks, potatoes and a side salad for our main.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Pink salt

Salt and Pepper
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
There's one truly Australian seasoning in the world: pink salt.

It doesn't really taste much different from any other salt, but it looks pretty.

People rhapsodise over the different salts and how they taste - I think it's all aesthetics. Once you crumble in the salt and it dissolves, it's all sodium chloride (+trace elements) anyway.

However, because cooking and eating are so sensual, appearances and touch are important. So, fleurs-de-sel, Maldon salt, pink salt, etc. have their place. But from a tactile and visual aspect: not a gustatory or olfactory one.

I love Duck Skin

Duck skin
Originally uploaded by daveyll.

Chinese New Year Reunion dinner

Chinese New Year Reunion dinner
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
This just verifies my theory that food Made with Love tastes better than anything else in the world.

I'd forgotten how sweet and delicious my grandmother's cooking is until I came home.

Prawn omelette, roast duck, hainanese chicken, steamed salmon with black bean sauce. Stir fried garlic shoots with chicken, fresh cucumber.

Upper Surry Hills on a grey Sunday morning

Belgenny Breakfast
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
Cafe Belgenny 10 am, 25 Feb

There's a faint mist of rain on this warm morning. I walk up Oxford St, greeted by the smell of stale beer wafting from closed nightclub bars and the pavement.

It's a quiet day; perhaps more so as Azure aka Harbour Party is on tonight. The boys are getting their beauty sleep.

I choose Belgenny to breakfast; a small cafe on Campbell St introduced to me by that off-beat conventional Nicholson.

Through the window I can see up to a balcony of an apartment where a late 30's to early 40's man in a white Bonds t-shirt sits reading a newspaper. He's got closely cropped hair - mostly bald - and puffs casually on his cigarette.

Very soon, other men with barbershop -short hair and tight pale t-shirts fill the cafe; most studying papers the papers too.

The smell of bacon intoxicates the room.

Two men in similar white t-shirts, of a similar age, with similar builds (same personal trainer, I think) and similar haircuts (one is silver, the other is still brown) walk in. Their identical grey cargo shorts match their white t's. One, the younger, has a yellow and red striped pattern on his thongs, whilst the other has a plainer design - some sort of yellow on black emblem.

They order identical breakfasts: two skim flat whites and half a banana muffin each. Low-fat, low-carb.

Aside from their similarity, their demeanour is a study in long-term comfort or brittle weariness held together by routine. They hand sections of newspapers to each other, an act well practised over time, which makes me lean towards "long-term comfort".

They're chattier now as the caffeine and sugar kick in. Their presumably calorie deficient diets must leave them on a finely honed edge between alertness and collapse.

Coffee at Belgenny
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
A holiday looks on the cards as cruise ship advertisements are pointed at. The Queen Mary and Elizabeth II are on everyone's minds at the moment.

Their cloneship, albeit inadvertant, would be cute if it weren't for their sullen and grim expressions. The determined uniformity of these two suggests a certain lack of imagination. Or perhaps it speaks of the Industrie-led domination of the Sydney gay-fashion scene. Topman would provide serious compeitition if they opened here. I'm kinda wondering why they haven't already.

Yellow bistro and cafe

Yellow bistro and cafe
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
I'm at Yellow Bistro/Food. My chicken salad has arrived; I forgot that the reason I knew of this place was because James described it as the place where he had a chicken salad with hardly any chicken.

I must say that my meat was in the minor key too.

But the deli is nice. I buy some Persian nougat for work colleagues. They're used to the hard crunchy cheap stuff.


Bar coluzzi, Victoria St, Sydney

Bar coluzzi, Victoria St
Originally uploaded by daveyll.
Good coffee on Victoria St.

Max Brenner Chocolate - update

Oxford St, Paddington 22-Feb-07

Subtitle: Elegy for Chocolate

Max Brenner is dying a long slow death. Choked by its popularity, this once novel, exciting and little-known place where one saw stick thin models eating exquisite chocolate desserts with knife and fork, now harbours trendy young parents with wild rampaging children high on sugar. There's also the odd high-school date and its faithful regulars: Asian students who love Western desserts.

The venue has acquired that faint smell of sweet and slightly aged milk. The vanilla aromas blending disturbingly with lactic cheesiness to foretell the future of this establishment: another Gloria Jeans'in a few more years.

The gift packs remain fabulous, but the chocolate varieties are not what they used to be. The middle-of-the-road and most cost-effective are now the loaw of this incarnation of Max Brenner. The chocoholic has left the helm.

Their once delectable tribute to chocoholism: Espresso and dark chocolate frappe is but a poor shadow of itself. "We could make you a dark chocolate one, but I don't guarantee it will taste nice. We just follow the recipe," advised the sullen attendent. So the insipid milk chocolate version arrives. A sign that ooey-gooey mud-cake loving Westies have triumphed over good-taste.

The glass is beautiful: a ceramic soda cup replica bent at the top with a straw hole. But the taste is greasy and rough. The chocolate extract grates on my throat and no amount of numbing ice can enrichen what tastes like a cheap drink but costs $5.95.

Yai Thai

Wednesday night, 21-Feb-07, Sydney. Lower Bourke St.

It's my first night in Sydney. James and I go for dinner seeking the Thai that Sydney's known for.

We walk up for a table. The restaurant is busy, but not stupidly so. We sit in the patio with wide open glass doors. There's that summer night breeze blowing through Surry Hills cooling the outdoor dining area.

We have:
Massaman beef curry
Banana flower salad with fresh coconut cream
Stuffed chicken wing

The salad has a spicy and sweet bean sauce - all very delicious. The total for dinner came to $22 a head.

I just marvel at how such a wonderful dining experience could was so easily achieved. A place like this in London would have been packed out and booked in advance for ages; not to mention cost the earth.

Simply Paris (in Wellington)

Upper Cuba St, 20-Feb-07

J'ai venu ici de d'obtenir un petit chose d'Europe; un souvenir quands je suis resté là - avant Singapour. C'est assez nostalgie maintenant; plus sentimentale.

I come here to get a fix of Europe; a reminder, a souvenir of my time before Singapore. It's nostalgic now; sentimental, as time soothes the rough edges and I view the past through Vaselined lenses.

I recall Leon and I discovering the Old World together with our virgin Antipodean eyes. We learned what the weight of history does to a city and its people: good and bad.

It's not suprising that the service here is slow dolorous - it is, after all, staffed by genuine French girls. But her charming smile, cute French accent and good looks make me forgive all. The venue is populated by middle-aged women who have, more likely than not, been to France or Europe for a holiday and loved the elegance of it all. They're the ones who like Opera - not because of the art - but because of the kinds of people that go to Opera.

The food is good, the pastries quite incredible. It's nice to have this sort of thing in Wellington