Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yak Italian Kitchen - Pizza Smackdown

Disclosure: I was invited as a guest to the pizza smackdown

When I was little, because steamed chicken, broccoli and rice was my favourite food (I'm not even kidding, I've drawn it before for homework in primary school), naturally when I made pizza, my toppings were none other than…broccoli and chicken. 

Maybe not ground breaking, and more puzzling than anything else, but that's really the beauty of pizza isn't it? It's such a great platform to play, experiment and express yourself in different ways, as there's just so much you can do. Change the base, change the cheese, change the protein…but just don't add pineapple. Personal pet hate. Blegh.

Yak Italian Kitchen celebrated this versatile canvas, and held a 'Pizza Smackdown' where a selection of Melbourne's chefs congregated to see who could make the best pizza, with the top 3 voted on to stick around on Yak Italian Kitchen's menu for a limited time (which may be over already…I'm a bad blogger…)

We started the night with a cheese stuffed pizza by Yak Italian Kitchen…to warm us up for the 8 pizzas that would be following, just in case we might not have enough or something. 

To really challenge our taste buds though, the first pizza was a cricket pizza, with sour cream, smoked bacon and pickled eggplants. Although some did not touch these due to the little critters, I totally dived in, loving how brave and experimental Florent Garadin from Silo had chosen to be. It was an interesting flavour palate for a pizza, with a tanginess from the sour cream and  a smokiness from the bacon and crickets. Was a little disappointed that the crickets weren't super duper crispy, but enjoyed them all the same. 

All ears and noses perked up as Matthew Macartney from Elanore's black truffle pizza descended on to tables. Covered in generous slices of the black gold, with fried basil, jamon, gruyere, parmesan, mozzarella, pine mushrooms and jerusalem artichokes, this was a stunner. And not to mention, totally delicious, after all is there a much better pairing than jerusalem artichokes and black truffle? I think not…!

Brendan McQueen from Matteo brought an Asian influence to his pizza, bringing the flavours of okonomiyaki to pizza. Baked leeks, cabbage, pork sausage, seaweed, sesame, fennel pollen, a moreish homemade barbecue sauce, bonito flake and kewpie. Plenty of kewpie mayo which makes my heart sing. Whilst I loved the rich umami kick of flavours on this, I found all the toppings made the dough a bit wet and soggy, and there was a little more crust than I would usually like. 

Hitting the half way mark, Michael Harrison from Allium Food & Wine brought out his smoked duck pizza, with his own miso and napoli sauce, smoked duck ham, kimchi and prawn floss. It was incredibly aromatic, although I personally tasted a bit more of the kimchi than the duck…having said that, the kimchi was delicious, so I guess this isn't too much of a problem…

Nick Bennet from Arbory Bar & Eatery presented us with a sobrasada pizza, with a delicious salami, cured air dried pork jowl, smoked clams, mozzarella and wild greens. I just adored how moreish this was, the clams adding a nice sea salt flavour to the mix. This was probably one of my favourite pizza bases, with a lovely thin base. 

The hoisin pork pizza was well loved at our table, created by Jerry Mai from Pho Nom. With a bit of Vietnamese flair, this pizza sported siracha, pork belly, crackling (YES CRACKLING), hoisin, mozzarella and coriander. Although the base was a bit wet from all the sauce, it was incredibly delicious. The pork belly was perfect, the meat melting in the out, with the coriander bringing a herbaceous note to the pizza and balancing out the richness of the hoisin. Nice kick of chilli too, which is lawys hard to say no to. 

The second last pizza was the closest to a classic combination, Jacque Turner from Bellota presenting us a pizza with jamom, sobrasada, red anchovies, belotta ham, goats cheese and salsa verde. Oh. After all the madness, this was so comforting to eat. I could have eaten a whole one if I wasn't so full already. The jamon was just spectacular, with a most delicious and smooth, almost creamy texture. Wholesome and well balanced, I adored this.

But…then Pierrick Boyer from Le Petit Gateau came with guns blazing with his first ever dessert pizza. Oh my goodness, what a showing! A homemade raspberry jam base is covered with peanut praline, fresh raspberries, dark chocolate and vanilla mascarpone. I'm honestly amazed at how perfect he got this pizza, covering it plenty, but not letting the base get to wet, and really providing a symphony of textures to explore. The produce really shone through as well, the raspberry jam and vanilla mascarpone rich and full. Might have had 3 slices. 

Might have gone to the gym for 3 days straight after.

The three winners of the night were Pierrick Boyer with his dessert pizza, Nick Bennett with his sobrasada and Michael Harrison's smoked duck. Although I only picked one of the winners personally, I actually believe I was the winner, for managing to fit through the door of Yak Italian Kitchen after all that pizza and walk (not roll) to a tram stop at the end of the night...

150 Flinders Lane

Yak Italian Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lucky Penny

Although I do enjoy my lazy weekends with Brad, where we're often not at brunch until 11am or so, I am most definitely a morning person. So when Brad was away running around in Europe (during the World Cup mind you), it was quite refreshing to organise a breakfast cafe catch up at 8:30am, with a chilly nip in the air, and be the first person in the cafe. 

The cafe of choice this particular morning, was Lucky Penny, in the heart of Chapel Street, right across the road from the Jam Factory. 

The decor follows the Scandinavian trend that's becoming more and more prevalent in cafes (taking over from hipster warehouse chic), which is uncluttered, clean and bright, with a minimalist approach to colour. It's quite soothing. 

Lovely hot drinks warm our hands and bellies, as people start trickling into the cafe as the morning continues on.

Again, Lucky Penny had caught my eye as a cafe catch up spot, as I had been drooling over the menu online. With a fun mix of classic brunch options, healthy goodness (such as the superfood breakfast bowl) and indulgent delights (lamington milkshakes anyone?), there was plenty to be tempted by.

Although I did want a milkshake, I figured 8:30am might be just a tiny bit too early for that.

So instead I did the most next sensible thing. 

Order possibly the heaviest dish for breakfast instead. 

Hey, it's winter, it's the perfect timing for that kind of stuff!

Black pudding, spiced jam, chicken livers and brioche with poached eggs. Yeow. Delicious. Hello hearty protein kick! I absolutely adored the fact that Lucky Penny was bold enough to put the livers on the menu, as I imagine the general Chapel Street traffic might not typically gravitate towards it (but I sure hope they do!).

Loved the fluffy and decadent brioche, leaving a nice buttery feel in the mouth, and that the black pudding that's made in house that didn't have too much of a spicy kick but a nice savoury flavour. So maybe not everyone's thing, but definitely mine!

My visit to Lucky Penny was brief, but very enjoyable. Staff were friendly and attentive, and were sporting some rather snazzy looking tattoo sleeves. Perhaps Chapel Street is finally getting some quality food where it's lacking most, I for one will definitely know where I'm going for a mid-shopping lunch break if in the area... 

481 Chapel Street
South Yarra

Lucky Penny on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hophaus + La Tavola Della Famiglia + Northern Light + Artusi

Disclosure: I was invited to the below establishments as a guest of a launch or to dine

West End, Mid-level
Southgate Ave

Hophaus on Urbanspoon

Oh I miss Germany. Sorely. So being at Hophaus made me ever so happy, with the bevy of German and European beers on tap (almost exclusively I believe) and apple schnapps on the door at the launch. 

And really, is there much better than a dark beer? Whilst it may not be quite as perfect as the ones in Germany, it will certainly ease my craving for now!

I was amazed at the size of the place, comfortably filled with a swell of people, swigging from jugs of Bitburger bigger than one's head!

But beer is not the only thing to shine at Hophaus, the food was surprisingly good. Caryn and I found ourselves a spot near the kitchen and waited like vultures for the fried chicken, or the moreish sliders to come out and feast on. 

Not to mention, there's also a rotisserie in the kitchen, tempting customers peering in. I can certainly vouch for the angus beef brisket, tender and beautifully seasoned, just melting in the mouth with a touch of char. Mmhmm!

CECCONI'S FLINDERS LANE | La Tavola Della Famiglia
61 Flinders Lane

Cecconi's Flinders Lane Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Although launches are usually evening dominated affairs, it was very refreshing (even more so with the nippy winter air), to have a breakfast launch for Cecconi's new cookbook, La Tavola Della Famiglia, written by Olimpia Bortolotto. Yes, I've been doing a tiny bit of work for them in some other areas, but I was actually invited by the PR for this event too!

We were treated to a bevy of fun and adorable breakfast nibbles. Maria's beautiful quince and cinnamon muffins were made mini-sized, but were still lovely, light and fluffy. Truffled scrambled eggs served in cones were a luxe way to start the morning and small cups of museli were clean and wholesome. Tea and coffee were aplenty (naturally) as Olimpia shared her pride and joy with us.

I was gifted a copy of the book and it proved itself to be very handy when my parents were away for a month, often turning to it not just for it's beautiful pictures, but wholesome and hearty recipes. Perfect for feeding a brother and boyfriend unit. But more than a cookbook, it's also a memoir with the story of the family, and how Cecconi's came to be, from the days in Crown Casino to moving to Flinders Lane. 

102 Smith Street

Northern Light on Urbanspoon

Happy hour is great, who doesn't love discounted booze? However, due to my natural body composition (ie. being Asian), happy hour's that involve food are much more my thing. 

So when Northern Light invited me down to check out their happy hour nibbles, I was only more than happy to oblige, having absolutely loved my first visit there (and more recent visits too). 

From Thursday to Saturday, Northern Light dishes up cheery little snacks, with only one item over $5, alongside $5 glasses of Sapporo and red or white wine. Not a bad deal if you ask me!

Freshly shucked oysters with yuzu sake are cool, sweet and go down a treat. The smoked eel and sushi rice croquette is crunchily addictive with the lovely smokiness peeping through. 

The BBQ chicken wings surprise the palate with a nice kick of chilli and the surprising favourite of charred peppers with togarashi and soured cream are sweet, smokey and generously flavoured. A must have if you ask me!

Because we enjoy ourselves so much, Rob, Glenn and I stick around and pay for a couple of extra dishes on the menu, the green rice with comte cheese, mushrooms and truffle (hallelujah) absolutely slaying us with it's delectable richness. Creamy rice, rich melted cheese and truffles…could you ask for much more?

Upper Level
3 Southgate Avenue

Artusi on Urbanspoon

Sometimes I go to launches, just expecting to be there for an hour, sip on a glass of wine and then run off without too much tummy space filled up.

And then sometimes I'm totally surprised because the launch turns out to be one huge party that ends up being a whole lot more fun than I expected, and my one glass of wine turns into 6…

The Artusi launch was that party, the new Italian restaurant at the Southgate Restaurant and Shopping Precinct, the brainchild of Luis Pampliega and Tamara Volkoff, who also own Tutto Bene (my friend Caryn swears they have the best risotto in town). 

It was a whirlwind of a night, with wine flowing freely and the chefs working hard in the open kitchen to cater for all the merrymakers. Sumptuous prosciutto, hot and fresh fried eggplant bites and nibbles of unctuous pork belly on slaw. Although the canapes were small, they were beautifully executed and making great promises of the food to be served in the full dining experience. 

Along with a jolly MC who sung his way through the crowd, having a little boogie with me as he passed on through and a pasta demonstration, an opera singer also popped in for a while, to wow the crowd with her vocal prowess. Artusi was bringing in the Italian, and not in a small way. 

Well except with the desserts, with some of the tiniest (but very delicious) tiramisu's I've ever seen and generously sugared doughnuts served with some chocolatey goodness that I could have been licking out of the bowl (but there were people around and that's just not polite…or is it…?)

I was lucky enough to win the door prize of a $250 dining voucher, so looking forward to returning and providing  a full report soon!