Monday, June 30, 2014

Mr Big Stuff

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest of Mr Big Stuff

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With the sea of American dude food and Southern-style soul food that's hitting Melbourne at the moment, it can sometimes come across a bit same same sometimes, but when I saw the menu for Mr Big Stuff online, I was chomping at the big to get in to try it out. 

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Taking up residency where Senoritas used to be in Meyers Place, I feel like I've slipped on a pair of 70's glasses and been transported into a sea of orange tints, afros, funk and giant lapels (as see on the DJ). It's a bit of a time warp. 

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Having never been to Senoritas before previously, I was surprised by how small the space is, but they've made good use, squeezing in quite a lot of tables and filling up the space nicely. 

The drinks menu reads fun, with options such as 'Cold Pressed Kool-aid', 'Egg Cream' and 'Cold Brew Iced Tea', all available as alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Maybe it's a touch hipster, but it makes for a fun read. 

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Suffering from drinking a bit too much the nights previously, I opt for all non-alcoholic drinks this particular night. I try 'Vanilla Ice Ice Baby', a cold brew vanilla black tea with fresh cold pressed apple and lemon juice. I enjoy that it's not too sweet, and is quite refreshing, although I wished more of the vanilla notes of the tea would come through a bit more. 

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However, once I tried the 'Kickin Kiwi' Cold Pressed Kool-Aid, I immediately wished I had just stuck with that from the beginning of the night as I find it much more full of flavour, cold pressed kiwi juice with a bit of fresh lemon juice and soda. Yum. Will be a winner when summer comes around!

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I also don't normally take note of this, but I was pretty impressed with the beer list, all of the beer coming from the states. Brad settled down with a Brooklyn Lager, but I enjoyed seeing a number of Rogue's beers on the menu, as well as some interesting options such as a Pumpkin Ale.

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We started our night with pig's ear chips with cayenne salt. 

Can I just say: yum. We had actually had some fried pig ear's as a garnish on a dish at the Merricote the week prior, but a whole plate of the stuff? Totally awesome. It's going to be the fried whitebait of 2014, just you wait. Sliced into small strips and fried perfectly, I hoed into these crunchy little morsels with a barely a moment of hesitation. Seriously, get one serve for you and another for your date, you will not want to share!

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We took the waiter's recommendation of having them alongside the pickled okra, the slight vinegary tartness a nice complement to the richness of the fried ears. Having had some slimy okra the night before, I loved how fresh and crisp these were (good product talks for itself!)

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One of the items on the menu that excited me the most was the roasted bone marrow with pickles, smoked salt and some toasted sourdough. Squirming with excitement as it was placed on our table, I was merciless and ensured I got the biggest piece to spoon out and smear all over a slice of bread. Oh my, rich, oily and so much more. Definitely not for the faint hearted. Bone marrow is something that should definitely see more love on menus…suppose it's only a matter of time really though. 

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I don't normally do items on menus with more than two cheeses, as I am somewhat aware and conscious of what I'm eating, but I just could not resist trying out the mac and cheese with three cheese. Um. Run, don't walk to this. Filling the air with it's decadent aroma and dusted with perfectly crunchy brioche crumbs, I adored this hot and rich pan of goodness. Stretchy, stretchy, cheesy goodness. 

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We also felt it was necessary to try the fried chicken and waffles, having missed out on it last year when Brad and I visited America. I had always thought it to be a weird combination, but after trying it I can see why people like it…but it's still a bit weird to me.

I loved Mr Big Stuff's waffles, soft and fluffy and not overtly sweet. The fried chicken was surprisingly spicy and aromatic, with a light batter that crumbled off the chicken, revealing juicy and tender meat. Brad was weirded out by maple syrup with the chicken, but loved it on the waffles, maybe it's something you just need to be brought up with to fully appreciate…? Definitely worth a try if you're in though!

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It was wonderful to see a healthy selection of offal on the menu, moving from pig's ears and bone marrow to 'Tongue & Cheek', a plate of veal, grilled tongue, braised cheek and a decadently smooth sweet potato puree. Warming and rich, it was a little full on and could have maybe used a little more acid to balance it out a bit. I found the tongue was perhaps a little more charred than I would like it, but I went totally gaga over the cheek which had been obviously slow cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. 

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A side of some of the best corn bread I've had, served in a hot pan and naturally sweet with an abundance of corn, was perfect for mopping up all the yummy leftovers left on the 'Tongue & Cheek' dish. 

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I was at bursting by the time we finished our mains, but felt the need to have some sweet stuff (as always) and opted for the apple pie with cinnamon and spiced rum. Having just had Kong's apple pie the night before, my expectations were pretty high and it was definitely hard to have anything else live up to that. Having said that I enjoyed the mini pastry pockets that were lovely and flaky, heavily dusted in cinnamon sugar, and piping hot, although I would have liked a little more apple in the filling as it felt a bit empty. 

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Mr Big Stuff's got some good stuff going on (hurr). There's a couple of things I can nitpick at, but for the most part I enjoyed the dining experience which was fun and chilled out and I think the menu's showing plenty of promise. With it's cheeky attitude I'd be interested to see the longevity of Mr Big Stuff, as I feel it's almost a touch on the trendy side, but I certainly hope it sticks around for a while as I will definitely be back for fried pig ear's and to try the sweetbread nuggets next time…

P.S The grey geometric wall is made of this foam stuff. Go poke it. Go on now...

16 Meyers Place

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Germany - Dusseldorf

Goodness, where do I even start talking about Dusseldorf? 

Have you guys even heard of the city? It's on the west side of Germany, and sits snugly next to the Rhine, one of the main rivers. It's a pretty bustling city, and generally quite business driven, with many international expo's through the year. 

But having said that, it's just a gorgeous city, much prettier than Frankfurt in my opinion, but I suppose having an Altstadt (old town) helps a bit there. 

I'm also incredibly biased as I've mentioned previously, because for me, Dusseldorf was home for 6 months when I did an exchange program with my university in the last year of my degree. 

Dusseldorf is where I grew up very quickly, got out of my comfort zone (sharing a dorm with Mexican's will make you do that), and came into my being a whole lot more. I essentially came of age (in my mind) in Dusseldorf. And so because of that, holds a very, very dear spot in my heart.  

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So although it was a bit further out than some other cities I could have visited during my short trip to Germany in May, a 2 hour train ride, with one change of train, I decided rather than seeing somewhere new, I would make the trek back to reminiscence in the nostalgia, just for a day.

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Travelling on train in Germany is very comfortable, especially if you take the ICE, the big speedier trains. It's just a simple matter of buying a ticket (in Frankfurt there are machines at every platform) and jumping onto the train. Or if you're a bit pedantic like me, checking the schedules and costs online first before going to the machine to buy the ticket a few days in advance. 

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Once on the train, the conductor comes around while the train is moving to stamp your ticket and then you're left peacefully for the rest of the trip. I spent my trip with a cup of delightfully sweet snack of strawberries, and getting my nose stuck into 'The Millionaire's Vinegar' (great book for all the wine people out there), occasionally raising my head to take in the gloriously green countryside. 

After a mad dash from one platform to another at Cologne station, I made it into Dusseldorf…and promptly forgot which tram to take to the Altstadt, when I then realised taking the U-bahn would be so much easier. Duhh.

Climbing up the stairs from the U-bahn up to street level, I'm hit with a wave of familiarity. The McDonalds immediately to my right, a frequent meeting spot before a big night of drinking, the Woyton's to the left an escape to grab a spot of free wifi when out and about. 

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It's a little surreal being in the Altstadt during the late morning, still sleepy from it's late night the night before, the streets clear and empty. 

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It didn't take too long to re-familiarise myself with the area, although I walked in circles a few times, it warmed my heart as I passed by restaurants I remembered eating in before with my mother when she had visited me, marvelled at the beautiful old squares, majestic architecture and delighted in the mini open air market abundant with white asparagus and gorgeous blooms. 

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As I wandered, I suddenly remembered I should go looking for a Mandelhorchen, one of my favourite bakery treats, but many of the small bakeries I poked my nose into didn't have it…until I found Hinkel Bakery. Oh my.

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Hinkel Bakery I found on my very first day in Dusseldorf, I remember taking these same pictures of the mountains of bread stacked high in the window, all shapes and sizes…and so much dark rye bread! Ah do I miss it. 

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Of all the bakeries, Hinkel smelt the best, engulfing you in warm toasty goodness upon stepping in, with a lively bustle and a never ending crowd, picking up their bread and perhaps a sweet treat too. It always surprised me what sweet tooth's the Germans had, with many just settling down for a slice of cake and coffee, any time of the day really!

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2 Euros later, I emerged from Hinkel with my prize, one of the best Mandelhorchen of my trip. Chewy, sweet, nutty, with just a little bit of chocolate. I really must learn to make these at home (and according to the recipes I'm finding…there's no flour in them!)

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From baked goods, to fried goods, when I saw the Freitbox had opened up, I made a beeline to it for some of my favourite fries, ever. If I told you how often I had these when I was on exchange, you'd be absolutely disgusted, but they're always fried perfectly, crunchy, cheap and best of all, come with 'joppiesaus'. The Mexicans told me to try it, and I never looked back.

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This trip I discovered that this mystery sauce I'd been addicted to was actually a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, onions, and curry powder…like all my favourite things. What's not to love? So delightfully moreish!

As the Altstadt started to come to life again, it was time to cleanse out my system a little (as much as I'd like to believe that chocolate followed by fries is good for you), and so I hopped over to Woyton and ordered a fresh peppermint tea. 

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This is something else I had all the time on exchange, especially since Woyton would give you free wifi for an hour, so I would often sit on it pirating tv shows since I had to pay for my data by the megabyte back in the dorm. 

I'm honestly surprised that this isn't more common in general, so easy, so straight forward, you'd have thought the hipster cafes would have caught onto it already in melbourne!

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I spent the rest of my afternoon lazily wandering around Konigsallee, window shopping in all the boutique stores, taking in the majestic architecture and reminiscing by the Rhine. Isn't she a beauty?

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Throughout summer, almost every weekend there would be some festival set up along the riverside, I guess kind of like Fed Square in Melbourne…but just more picturesque. 

I also had to make sure I popped into the Gewurzhaus in the Altstadt as the main reason for me coming to Dusseldorf was actually in this tiny little shop.


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ABB Mustard has been produced in Dusseldorf since 1726 and when my dad and I first arrived in 2008, we discovered it's utter deliciousness and have not been able to find it anywhere since. Smooth, creamy, there's a bit of bite, but a marvellous complexity and depth in flavour as well. It's just incredibly yummy. 

So yummy, that I brought home about 10 bottles which put me overweight by about 3kgs or so on the way home…hum de hum…

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Instead of dragging my 1kg of mustard (probably more actually) around the Altstadt, I popped into Gut und Gerne, one of my favourite hot chocolate shops anywhere. Charming, and quaint, I love that the hot chocolate is actual chocolate melted with milk in a pot, instead of being made with powder or pre-made. 

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It also helps that I love the fact that the mugs of hot chocolate are more like soup bowls of the stuff, smooth and rich in flavour, but not heavy in density. 

From hot chocolate, to beer. It's unorthodox, but when you've only got one day in town, you've got to make it count. 

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Dusseldorf has a lovely selection of microbreweries, with a lot of them located in the Altstadt, which is also appropriately known as 'the longest bar in the world', since there are supposedly more than 300 bars in the the altstadt (although some of them are pretty touristy). 

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Uerige is one of the better known microbreweries, expanding across the laneway to have a number of benches and outdoor seating. The beer is dark and quite bitter, but has a nice richness to it that I enjoyed as well. Uerige holds quite a number of memories for me, on a trip out with the exchange students to get to know each other better, the Mexicans in the group decided the beer was too bitter and ended up getting us all drunk on very strong vodka and sodas bought and mixed from the convenience store. 

First time I ever threw up. And slept at a tram stop. Good times.

To wrap up my trip in Dusseldorf, I returned to one of the first restaurants that I ate at on my exchange with a couple of friends, that remained a firm favourite through the duration of my exchange, Zum Schiffchen. 

With 380 years of history, Zum Schiffchen is supposedly the oldest restaurant in Dusseldorf. In one corner of the restaurant, they have a bust of Napoleon sitting on a shelf above where he apparently had a little power nap when he visited. True or not, it's fun to imagine!

It's a very authentic experience, with waiters who never need notepads, lots of rich wood and a menu that sings traditional and comforting. 

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I visit Zum Schiffchen for a few things, but the shining star for me, has always been the Schweinhaxe, the pork knuckle…loaded with sauerkraut and pan fried potatoes. It's an absolute meat extravaganza with a huge bit of crunchy crackling wrapped around it. The best.

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To wrap up, there's nothing like tucking into more of Europe's beautifully sweet strawberries with ice-cream and whipped cream (they seriously love whipped cream on everything). 

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From there I wandered back over to the main train station to call it a day. The conductor recognised me on the trip back (guess grey space age hair is pretty unique), cheerfully saying something in German that I smiled and nodded to, before watching the rain come down on the train outside. Perhaps Dusseldorf was saying goodbye to me too?