Sunday, September 28, 2014

Caulfield Cup Teaser at Black Caviar Restaurant

Disclosure: I was invited to dine as a guest by the Melbourne Racing Club 

The Spring Racing Carnival. Renown for the beautiful racing grounds, the fashion, the stunning thoroughbreds and the jockeys who become mainstream tv stars, just for a season. 

What's it generally not known for? Let's be honest, it's food. 

I've been a huge fan of the races for years, especially the ones at Caulfield, with its more relaxed atmosphere than at Flemington. I had taken horse riding classes for 10 years, so have always loved the statuesque creatures, and in university, loved the thrill of watching the races, with a little money on the line, and having an excuse to dress up. Oh and eyeballing all the smartly dressed men too of course. 

Since uni days, food at the racecourse has improved, with Grill'd setting up shop in more recent times, and a much better range of options generally being available, but when I was invited to see what was on offer at the Black Caviar restaurant for the high rollers at the Crown Golden Ale Caulfield Cup Carnival, I definitely could not turn it down!

We started our evening in the foyer of the restaurant, with a glass of bubbles as we waited to see Ian Curley (of the European and more recently Kirks Wine Bar) and Julian Robertshaw would be serving up. 

A delicate mini fishbowl of meredith goat's cheese, edible soil and pickled heirloom carrots got the palate started, with a nip from the cheese, and a touch of vinegar from the carrots. The edible was a bit too salty, but I still cleaned up the little bowl. 

Our second canape though, was simply perfection, a tartare of tuna topped with finely sliced green apple batons, green apple jelly, cavaiar and green apple, champagne and wasabi sorbet. So refreshing, light and zesty, one fishbowl was not enough!

We were soon ushered into the kitchen, where in the throng of the Crown Golden Ale Caulfield Cup Carnival, they can expect to be serving 1000 people a day! Wowch! 

Master Brewer, Tully Hadley, from the Carlton United Brewery, talked us through their new Crown Golden Ale, which just from pouring out, you could instantly see is darker and richer looking compared to the Crown Lager that most of us have come across (at some point or rather I'm sure anyway…) and this translates to the palate. I was surprised to learn that we should be drinking ales at about 5 to 12 degrees, not fresh out of the fridge or esky that we seem to be accustomed to, which gives more flavour to the beer (makes sense when you think about it really now though…)

Following the Master Brewer, it was time for the slightly gruff, but friendly Ian Curley to demonstrate how our dinner, a fricassee of john dory with oyster and mussel escabeche, was made. 

The kitchen was filled with beautiful and aromas, making me feel like I was more at the beach on a summery day rather than a commercial kitchen. Especially when I greedily volunteer myself to eat the first oyster that Ian shucks on the spot. Bliss.

We also had jockey's Michael Rodd and Chris Symons helping out…although I'm not sure if Michael is really helping out that much! 

I also jumped in to give a hand scooping out the escabeche on to plates and making sure we had precisely three micro herbs on each plate as well. We just had to do 20 plates, I can only image what it would be like to do 200! 

When we finally got around to eating the dish, it was just lovely. Although the night we were at the Black Caviar Restaurant was a bit cool, I could imagine this on a warm sunny afternoon, a fresh and sweet, light and bright flavour, with perfectly cooked john dory and mashed potatoes with smoked eel. He went there. Swoon!

Between mains and dessert, the Carlton United Brewery spoilt us, and let us sample two of their beers from their Ambassador range, a 2012 vintage and a 2009 vintage, which in the wine world would equate to reserves (or so I would imagine). These beers have three times as much malt in them compared to the Crown Lager, and are aged in 4 months in French oak barrels, imparting vanilla flavour notes.

Served in big bulbous glasses, it was easy to forget you were drinking beer almost, until it is poured and the golden molten colours remind you that this isn't any white or red wine you've ever seen before! The 2012 was big and fruity on the nose and palate, a bit of punch and playfulness, whiles the 2009 was dark and rich, with caramel and toffee notes creeping throughout. The latter was definitely my preference. 

As we sipped on the fanciest, and possibly most expensive beer I have ever had, dessert came out in the form of a rhubarb and ginger pudding with mint caramel ice-cream, hot and steaming. The rich ginger went perfectly with the beer, and was surprisingly quite light, with the sweet rhubarb beneath. The mint caramel ice-cream was quite intriguing as well, and not a combination I would normally imagine to put together, but it all worked somehow. Got to love the creativity that chefs have! 

So whilst we were treated to the best of the Melbourne Racing Club, I do hope this starts a trend in the Spring Racing Carnival and be providing great food, no matter where you are in the concourse. I do hope to pop by with fascinator in hair to see for myself, or see if I can just name drop Ian Curley and gate crash at the Black Caviar Restaurant on the day…think that'll work? 

Rupert Clarke Grandstand
Level 3
Caulfield Racecourse

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Post Eat Drink Blog Musings

So, another Eat Drink Blog (dubbed EDB from here on in) has come and gone. Having missed last year's one in Perth, it was great to pack the bags and get back into it in Brisbane this year, with plenty of fresh faces and some new topics. 

Although I will do my recap with pretty pictures and what not a bit later, I just wanted to pop down my thoughts and musings (apologies in advance when this starts to get a bit nonsensical) and what I got out from EDB14, which I feel is quite different from the previous EBD's I had attended (Sydney in 2011, Adelaide in 2012). 

I think one of the more interesting things for me was Nat from Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow, speaking about the food blogging 'industry' (if you can call it that), in Asia and more specifically, how to make it big as a food blogger in Singapore and be popular. 

What interested me during his talk was that all the bloggers in his top 10 Singapore food blogger list were all restaurant reviewers, rather than cooking or recipe blogs, and that on top of that, a number of them were making some pretty good money out of it. Up to $3,500 a post apparently!

This had me reflecting on the Melbourne/Australian food blogging scene (since that's what I'm obviously most familiar with) and my previous experiences with EBD as well. 

Previously I've always felt like one of the few restaurant bloggers in a sea of recipe bloggers, and that previous itineraries at EDB have been revolved around recipe bloggers…although I always left with guns blazing, inspired to update my blog somehow, whether it was doing something different with my photos, or updating my layout somehow.

At this year's EDB, I didn't quite have that same level of inspiration, but think that I left with a lot of reflection on my mind, and lots of things to general ponder on. 

I felt in this year's EDB, restaurant bloggers far outweighed the recipe bloggers, and that even this year's program skewed more towards restaurant bloggers, or at least with more direct relevancy ie. the media landscape, chef vs blogger panel and what ACCC guidelines say and how to protect ourselves, with almost all case studies in it about restaurant reviews when previous lawyers had discussed about how to protect recipes and how to not steal other people's recipes. 

Not that this wasn't relevant to recipe bloggers, but I felt that there was a lot more there for the restaurant bloggers to draw from directly. 

Is Australia's food blogging scene migrating more towards restaurant blogging then? I understand Singapore being mostly restaurant blogs, as that's very much the culture there, and frankly, cooking in a kitchen at 30 degrees isn't very enjoyable, whilst in Australia there always felt to be much more of an interest in home cooking, especially with the beautiful produce we're blessed with. 

Perhaps though I guess, restaurant blogging has a much lower barrier to entry (no cooking skills required, and less time required to set up and shoot etc.), I certainly do think perhaps we are leaning more one way than the other, especially in Melbourne. 

It also surprised me, when we lined up all 60 bloggers in blog age order, that I was way up at the end of the line with the people who had been blogging the longest, and that the biggest bulk of bloggers was in the 2 to 3 year old gap. 

This of course, could be due to a huge range of factors (majority of bloggers in my blog age or older just may not have applied or be interested in EDB), but I suppose for every blog 4 years and over now, there must be many, many more entering the foray. 

And what defines a blog now anyway? I met a few bloggers this time round and was intrigued to be asked 'traditional blog or Instagrammer?' With some bloggers purely having an Instagram presence, and absolutely nothing else. It's fascinating (although I guess not entirely unexpected) to see blogs evolve like this. 

Although with so many bloggers coming into the scene, what counts as quality now? I'm fully aware that not every one of my posts are gold, but there are a number of blogs I've seen pop up and I wish they would spend a little more time with their photos, or just craft what they're trying to express in a post a little bit more. We don't want everyone to be alike, but it's just nice to see bloggers put care into their work (even if it is just for fun).

Whilst the food blogging scene is travelling so quickly, it also feels like there's a lot to be developed. I can't help but feel like I'm starting to become redundant, that my long and wordy posts probably go overlooked in exchange for shorter and punchier writers. However, I've always said that I don't think I could ever change this…as it would no longer be me, or my blog. 

Speaking of me again, what's success for a blog? 'Monetization' becomes a sexier word for bloggers, with each year that passes by, and it's easy to get caught up in the buzz and feel like you haven't done anything with yourself, especially if you're like me and have been blogging for almost 5 years without really making a cent out of it. As Christina said in her presentation, success should be as you define it, but 5 years on down the track, do I still want to be doing this? Does this give me enough joy to? Something to ponder on.

I do know at least, that one of the main things I have gotten out from this blog, is this amazing network of likeminded people, many of which I'm proud to call my friends. Despite agendas at EBD and the dynamic making a slow but gradual shift, the networking, and meeting of other bloggers, is still something I greatly, greatly enjoy each time.

But anyway, I being to digress. Whilst restaurant reviewing is apparently able to make good dollars in Singapore, is it something that can be supported here? If not, will all these bloggers who are 2 or 3 years old, be around for another 2 or 3 years? How about 5? And how many more people will join the foray? With the Australian dollar slowly beginning to drop again, will there be another resurgence of recipe bloggers as well?

I still honestly can't full fathom why I'm interested in food blogging; when you think about it in the bigger gist of things, blogging is pretty unnecessary in the world, but I can't help but be fascinated and love it. I guess this is what passion is right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spilt Milk

They say to not cry over Spilt Milk…and in Carnegie, there's really, truly no reason to! 

Brad, his friend Matt and I popped by Spilt Milk after we went to watch Brad's outdoor team play soccer…correction, Brad watched his team play, Matt played and Chai and I did lazy laps of the field and found a quiet patch to play ball at. Everyone happy. 

As it got colder and colder through the morning though, I was very, very much looking forward to lunch time, which was one of the reasons I had decided to make the trek out to Knox where the team was playing with Brad. 

Since we were with Chai, despite the cold, we sat outside. Fortunately Split Milk's heaters work an absolute treat and I was stayed nice and toasty!

When I saw $4 milkshakes, I simply couldn't resist, opting for the caramel one, and fortunately, they weren't too rich or heavy, which meant I could still squeeze in a lovely and hot soy chai as well. Normally I do like my milkshakes thick, creamy and cheeky, but this was quite refreshing. 

It was here that Matt couldn't understand how I could be a food lover and not drink coffee, then proceeded to be even more confused when I admitted to liking the smell though…go figure!

The menu is simply adorable, handwritten with loopy tittles and capitalised but playful body text. Each of the items on the menu is named after an animal, from rosella's to barracuda's! 

I can't quite remember which animal I ordered, I think it might have been the 'Sheep', with baked eggs served in a pan with sundered tomatoes, fresh spinach, fetta, sourdough and a spot of chilli jam on the side. I will admit, it was not at all what I was expecting when I first ordered, used to seeing lush tomato based humongous servings. Instead, Spilt Milk's more modest take on baked eggs is light, fresh and still very wholesome. 

I think Brad might have ordered the 'Cow', baked eggs with chorizo sausage, fetta, herbs and tomato relish, also served in a pan with light rye. 

Matt's 'Frog' though, which I forgot to take a picture of, was a mountain of scrambled eggs with smashed avocado, pesto, fresh spinach, fetta and green beens…which immediately gave me food envy as I was a little more peckish than usual and he, having just finished playing soccer, completely wolfed it down!

Although our baked eggs were a little bit lighter than I had thought they might be, at least this meant I had plenty of room for the sweet treats. Silver lining with everything right? 

And goodness, Spilt Milk's sweet treats really are serious treats!

I ordered a serve of the chocolate flourless cake, which isn't simply just put onto a plate and brought out to you…oh no! At Spilt Milk, they warm it up and spoon on a delicious and warm berry sauce, resulting in a beautiful moist texture and just comfort with each bite. Mmhmm!

I also ordered their gluten free yo-yo, which I loved, with a lovely short texture, and was delighted when they added an extra caramel slice on the side, stating that I simply had to try it! Woah. What and what a caramel slice it was! Although the chocolate looks solid, it's actually quite smooth and supple, easily scooped into, just melding gently into the soft caramel. 

Rich, dense, creamy and simply beautiful. I could not get over how good it was! 

Although I'm not out in Carnegie that often, if I was in the area, I'd only be more than happy to return to Spilt Milk…especially if they keep turning out those caramel slices like that! 

Spilt Milk
288 Neerim Road

Spilt Milk on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wagyu Ya

Disclosure: I was invited to dine at Wagyu Ya as a guest

In a time in Melbourne where the dining scene is taking a turn to smart casual, with share type dishes, exciting and bold on flavours, or if more upmarket, elaborate and delicate and tweezer-ed to high heaven, where do you go for a meal with just lush ingredients at their best?

We found it at Wagyu Ya in South Yarra. 

Wagyu Ya specialises in…you guessed it, top grade wagyu, grilled on their 'smokeless' Japanese charcoal grills. But more than that, as we discovered, is that there's a lush range of Japanese food, with some items that would leave you hard pressed to find anywhere else!

The restaurant is divided into and upstairs and downstairs area, downstairs houses a small sushi counter and a handful of tables…but it's really upstairs where you want to be, with the charcoal grills filling the air with their delicious aromas.

Unlike typical Asian barbeque's, the grill at Wagyu Ya is considered 'smokeless' as rather than utilising a exhaust to suck up the smoke, there's a ring that fits around the perimeter of the grill and sucks the smoke through the sides. It's quite fascinating to watch, and it really does noticeably cuts down the amount of smoke. I was surprised when I went home that none of my clothes actually smelt of smoke!

But I'm jumping the gun a bit here, let's start at the beginning with our entrees. 

And wow. What a beginning! A real sashimi showpiece, a stunning display of colour. I hadn't realised how long it had been since I last had sashimi, and goodness, it was fantastic to be reunited, especially when it was so lovely and so fresh! Generously cut slices of fish were meaty, yet sweet, and the scallops just lazily slipped into the mouth, melting onto the tongue. Glorious.

Adorable pots of chawanmushi warmed us up again, smooth and silky. 

Chicken wings were rich, succulent and just so juicy, with a seasoning that added just a touch of heat. 

Wagyu Ya's version of steak tartare was exquisite, with finely cut strips of wagyu, a glorious magenta colour, with a golden yolk, combining together beautifully. A sprinkle of sesame seeds and chopped spring onion brings an Asian twist to this dish. 

The fusion of rich products and Japanese cuisine continued thereafter with a decadent serve of wagyu beef sushi, tender, tender strips of wagyu that just melted into the mouth, marinated in an absolutely delicious sauce. The meat just melted in your mouth, just beautifully fatty. 

And if you thought that was lush, cast your eyes onto the foie gras sushi! I simply couldn't believe my eyes! Although absolutely stunning, with a gorgeous smooth texture, I felt the flavour was a little restrained with this and didn't get the full richness I expected…although the next dish made up for that…tenfold!

This foie gras rice dish, came topped with shavings of truffle as well and once it hit the table just oozed into the air with decadently rich aromas, which quickly left me swooning. Once our photos were taken, they proceeded to mix everything up in the dish together the fatty foie gras melting into the rice, leaving a slick feel to the lips afterwards, which had you licking it up for more. Goodness, what a combination. Talk about a luxe comfort dish! I would quite easily just visit Wagyu Ya just to have this on it's own. 

Wagyu Ya's selection of wagyu is seriously impressive. This is the serve for two, which initially surprised me with how big it was, but by the time you cook it, it does reduce a bit as the fat oozes out. Mmhmm.

For curiosity sake, this is the serve for four people, which when we saw at the end of the night almost bowled us over just by it's sheer size!

It was great to try all the different cuts, each delicious in it's own way, whether it be from melt in the mouth texture, or rich meaty flavour. The definite star was the 10+ grade cuts we had, and it was amazing how much you could tell the difference by tasting it. Wagyu Ya recommended that we had it last after all the other cuts, as it's richness would overwhelm everything else…and they weren't lying! 

To finish, our night wrapped up with some lovely serves of green tea cheesecakes, with crumbly biscuit bases. Not too sweet, just the perfect note to end on. 

Believe me, we were rolling out of there. It's a decadent and delicious feed, which comes with a relatively big price tag, but for some absolutely top product. Previously I had never really understood the hype or interest in Asian barbeque, but it's really about how the meat's prepared for you, sliced so thin and infused with the smokiness of the charcoal and at Wagyu Ya, it's done well. 

Wagyu Ya
156 Toorak Road

Wagyu Ya Japanese Chargrill Restaurant on Urbanspoon

View I'm So Hungree in a larger map