Dishes, Restaurants

Eating at Spice Route & missing South Africa

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For the last few years I have only been going back to South Africa once a year (unfortunately!) and it’s hard to keep up with what’s supposed to be hot & fresh, and over the last few years I have gone to places that I remember being good, just to eat there and realise that they havn’t kept up with the times, something restaurants need to keep in mind more than they care for (anywhere in the world).

Anyhow, this time I’d heard about Bertus Basson and Alistair Lawrence doing something new at  Spice Route, and fit in a family lunch just before I left for Melbourne again.

Well Spice Route is a bit of a culinary entertainment hotspot – wine and craft beer tastings & sales, chocolate tastings, deli, distillery, charcuterie and restaurants! And massively popular, I guess if you have small kids or need to do something with a group of people this is a great place to hang out and spend a large part of the day.

Tongue and slaphaksteentjies

Tongue and slaphaksteentjies

I love the food for its modern approach to dishes I grew up with, and the specific tastes associated with those dishes. I had baked ox tongue with slaphaksteentjies (sweet pickled onions) that transported me right back to childhood memories of this amazing ox tongue dish my mom used to cook every Christmas and any other fancy occasion, when I would help myself to generous portions.

Yellowtail

Yellowtail

My main was a expertly cooked piece of yellowtail, (a local, and much loved fish), with a delicate mussel & fennel garnish. And to finish apple pie, slightly deconstructed but still with that particular taste profile I remember.

Apple 'pie'

Apple ‘pie’

My brother had the steak, which looks rich, but also like everything you want from a steak. I’d definitely go back when I head back to SA. The service was fast too – a departure from some ridiculously slow service I found at two city restaurants, and the setting is bliss!

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The steak dish. Wouldn’t mind a bit of that now

 

 

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Dishes

Apricot sorbet

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We make so many different sorbets in summer at the restaurant – this summer alone has seen sylvanberry, morello cherry, mango, mixed berry and the latest, and most impressive, has been apricot.

I’ve done quite a bit of peach sorbet in the past, but the apricot usually finds itself ending up as jam or in puddings, so I was really pleased with how this one turned out – all foamy and whilst obviously having all the sugar added to it, still mouth-puckingly tart! A perfect summer wake-up!

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Here’s what I did – the recipe is based on the sorbet ratio in Philippa Sibley‘s book PS Desserts, which is a really good desserts book that I highly recommend, with excellent explanations for basic recipes (and also includes her famous Snickers dessert, which I won’t even attempt).

Recipe follows after the pic of the roast apricots that are on a different dessert at the moment – with chocolate & almond cake and vanilla ice cream.

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Weigh out 1kg pipped fruit, no need to peel. Put this, 300g caster sugar, 85g liquid glucose and 285ml water, and 1 vanilla pid scraped if you fancy, in a large saucepan.

Cook together until the fruit collapses entirely, then cool down and blitz.

Press through a fine strainer, then churn in an ice cream maker, or do the home-made whisk-every-now-and-then version if you have the time and energy!

Now you have fabulous sorbet! Serve with something wickedly chocolatey, or with a shot of grappa for a good night out, or with berries if its breakfast time (ahem…)

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Lucky Dip, Random Stuff

Books

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I.can’t.walk.past.a.bookshop. If it’s a cookery book shop (err, Books for Cooks here in Melbourne) its a done thing that I am going to walk out with an armload of “books I’ve always wanted”.

I generally buy books for ideas feather than recipes, because I like to think that cooks have put out their much-tested recipes to inspire us, not for us to parrot copy and Instagram our perfect rendition of someone else’s idea. The above books are just last week’s haul, with only Pitt Cue really a restaurant recipe book. If there’s a BBQ book you want to buy, this is a stellar choice. The Herve This science tome and Flavour Thesaurus are also pretty much up there with the Larousse Gastronomique and Harold McGee bibles that should be the very first cookbooks you buy.

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Also in the post this week, Pete Goffe-Woods’ new book chronicling his amazing foodie life thus far (there are probably enough anecdotes for a few more books!) Its so awesome to see the familiar style of recipes, and my favourite – Monkfish with Black Bean dressing – some recipes just haunt you forever. Also in there the tale of our lunch in Budapest – probably the first time I realised why all the fuss about food and the ultimate meal…comparable to when surfers talk about forever chasing that wave that you can never anticipate. I’ve yet had a more memorable meal encompassing the perfect setting, food, service and attention to detail and food and wine matching.

IMG_2611Finally Sean Brock’s much anticipated Heritage. I’ve followed his food for a while now, and this book doesn’t disappoint. I’m a huge fan of his culinary philosophy, underscoring all the influences contributing to American cuisine, and the tricky question of what really defines America’s culinary heritage. With some really original cooking.

And so many more. I’m currently practically studying Dan Barber’s The Third Plate, another philosophy that makes so much sense, and will post about that soon.

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Dining at Brae & taking a break

A proper day off away from the business just doesn’t really happen – two days off, next to each other, mind you, is even more rare but our Christmas break of 9 whole days – it seems like a wild dream. I’ve spent so much time thinking about all the swimming in the ocean, eating, drinking, reading, yoga, sleeping…. that it’s probably going to be a huge anti-climax. Let’s hope not!

It’s been a crazy year at the bar, and next year will be stronger! We close Christmas eve, so if you want to come in for one last 2014 hurrah, come say hi tonight.

The menu didn’t get too Christmassy this season, we did a duck, cranberry & pistachio terrine, and there was some Torrone Molle (Italian chocolate nougat of the festive season), but overall its become lighter, to suit the sort of eating mood everyone finds themselves in when the sun turns it up.

We’ll open on the 4th of Jan next year with a menu reflecting high summer – more tomatoes, crab, prawns, stone fruit, salads…. food that sits nicely with white wines, sherry and obviously, rosé!

A last highlight of the year was dining at Brae restaurant for a birthday celebration. The food is phenomenally executed, the gardens are charming to wander about in, and just getting out in the countryside is the best thing for the soul – with a bit of ocean time thrown in for good measure.

It feels remote (it’s situated just outside the town of Birregurra in regional Victoria, which is about as big as McGregor in the Western Cape, RSA – and about as far from the capital), but that adds to the je ne said quoi that makes this restaurant worth travelling to.

The bread is phenomenal.

We went for dinner, but in retrospect I’d say lunch is the best, so as to fully appreciate the light and airy dining room, the surrounding gardens and region and catch that magical country sunset at the end of the day.

 

 

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Melktert and missing home

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There is really nothing you can do about being homesick. And December is homesick month for so many people, myself included. Not much you can do if you don’t actually have a trip home booked, so the next best thing (for me) is to cook a dish that evokes great memories.

My family had a beach house for most of my childhood (still do), near a picturesque town called Hermanus (sort of like Torquay here near Melbourne) and in the main street there used to be a bakery that sold melktert (custard tart) made only by one lady. We spent every December holiday in this area and the whole family were so hooked on these melkterte, that after a while my mom worked out exactly when they got delivered to the little tuisnywerheid (home-baked goods store) and swooped in on them whilst still hot, with us in the back of the car carefully babysitting the still-warm tarts back home.

They were made of the most exceptional puff pastry, and the lightest custard imaginable, with just a wisp of cinnamon on top. Incomparable. I have not eaten any melktert like that since, and the lady and her baking excellence have long gone.

For the tarts above  followed a recipe by Madeline Bonvini-Hamel, which worked great but I needed a better tart plate, which I’ll get next time to make the deeper tart I remember.

For now that will have to do until I get to see the view below on the farm in February.

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Lucky Dip, Rants

Alice Waters: Still a (food) revolutionary

I had the privilege to listen  to Alice Waters a couple of weeks ago, and share in her heartfelt conviction for her cause (which really should be everybody’s priority), its been so many years since she became known as a strong, clear voice in the fight for traditional values surrounding food, eating and living in general, really! (Oh yes, and for opening Chez Panisse)

She started with a thinly veiled comment of disappointment at the just past G20 conference in Brisbane, and how climate change didn’t get the time it deserved, as well as mentioning the absolute power of  the mining industry and its devastating effect on the local agricultural industry, and it’s disregard for the environment in general. (Sadly the case with mines all over the globe – nature of the beast, really.)

Relying on notes taken hastily, this is chiefly what she talked about:

Her first big topic centered around the idea that so many of the problems we face in the world today – politically, socio-economically, environmentally et cetera could be seen as an extension of a culture we have created and have been caught up in, in what is now the accepted way of life.

Her connection with Slow Food is well known and it is easy to understand why she draws a parallel with the “Food” culture – that of Fast Food, that has slowly been destroying how we eat (and think, or don’t think about eating) and life in general. We’re not just talking food – this culture has now emerged as the new machination of life, the way of life and the way the world operates.

She speaks of a new set of values that we have come to accept as normal – values that intrinsically lead to the degradation of the human experience, and has tainted our perception of how life works, like:

Uniformity: This idea is so woven into the everyday that we hardly question it. It creates the illusion of there actually being no pressure to conform – by making uniformity ‘normal’. We now question why some products are not uniform. Which is unnatural, but we’ve forgotten that.

Speed: We have forgotten that some things take time, and instead get irritated & annoyed  when things don’t happen quickly or present instantaneously. We have essentially lost the art of practicing patience.

Availability: More annoyance and irritability that all of life’s luxuries are not accessible everywhere, all the time, in a familiar format. WIFI in the middle of a tranquil forest, why not? Think how McDonalds prides itself on the same burger from Washington to Worcester. That’s not actually cool.

Cheapness: She mentions the tagline for Coles: “Down, Down, prices are Down”, but wonders where the missing dollars have gone. We have somehow forgotten that we actually do have to pay for something to be created from scratch. We  need to realise that that the farmers are being paid less, but Coles’ profits certainly do not diminish when prices are slashed.

Work = drudgery: I found this to be a sticky point. I agree with her when she says that in fewer and fewer instances, a sense of self-accomplishment is connected to work – all everyone strives for now is getting a job, that makes enough money, to buy more stuff. (I disagree – this is a first-world affliction, but nonetheless an anomaly).

Basically we get so little pleasure out of work, that that we essentially try and do as little as possible in our required work time, which leads to why we are feeding and purporting the ‘Fast Culture’, thus strengthening it and embedding it into our being.

This culture has successfully separated work from pleasure – and now takes our money to drive both forward.

She then goes on to explain why she opened Chez Panisse in the first place. Not to make money apparently, but to of course introduce the much envied French “way of life” to America. A new, rustic & relaxed style of cooking, and one menu to drive a certain taste experience. All very successful as we know, but she then speaks of how she has observed food culture changing, now: value = more & bigger.

Now large corporations continually hijack terminology that the well-meaning food world put out there to try and advocate more conscious and healthy eaters – think natural, local, organic, Fair Trade, Free – Range, Sustainable… theses have all been corrupted to the point where no one knows who to to believe or where to access the original, correct product. All these words have been assimilated into mainstream marketing and have, essentially, become meaningless  and misleading.

There is no one who can set proper standards, and this ‘dishonesty’ has led to a complete lack of values, which now shape our behaviour. Behaviour which is rapidly starting to corrode how we evaluate how we live, how we equate happiness with value, or ward off all the modern problems that come with this ‘set of beliefs’. Her word, which is rather strong but accurate, is that we’ve become dehumanised.

In closing, she presents the antithesis to the above. The Slow Food culture and way of life, which, although always there, has been ignored and forgotten in the corner, so to speak. It has it’s own set of values :

Awareness, Honesty, Integrity, Community, Respect. Values that are earthbound.

A culture that’s naturally nurturing. She found that where the focus was on integrating these values – it didn’t really mix with the ‘Fast Food way of life’ at all, and it became clear to people how to think about how they ate, how they bought, and where they supported which institution. Even at Chez Panisse they found that customers responded to these values, but thought that it was everything else they were doing at the restaurant that created that particular feeling.

It was inspirational listening to her. This is a great idea, and clearly the way  forward.

 

 

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Last of Spring

Email this morning  from the organic growers – fresh broad beans are pretty much over, heralding the real start to summer. Below, green almonds, around for way too short. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to find green walnuts this year, so the next big job will be morello cherries!

Green almonds. More spring #neighbourhoodwine

A photo posted by @almayj on

 

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