tiger, tiger

329 Murray St, Perth CBD
Phone: (08) 9322 8055

Recently I went over to Perth with Mr N for the weekend. Due to work constraints, Mr N got in a couple of hours later than me, so as I’ve never been to Perth before, I spent Saturday morning wandering around downtown Perth, in search of somewhere to have breakfast. The majority of places in and around the Hay St and Murray St malls were either insipid looking coffee shops fronted by al fresco dining on plastic rattan seating, or schmickity modern cafes filled with moulded plastic and chrome. And while that might be OK in a pinch, I was certain there had to be somewhere in Perth with a little more character.

So I kept walking, and down the far end of Murray St, I happened upon a little laneway, with two cafes tucked away inside.Mismatched furniture and bill posters for theatre events everywhere told me I’d found the little piece of Perth’s soul I was looking for. Little did I know that it was set up by an ex-Melburnian. It all makes sense now!

Of the two cafes in the laneway, I opted for the first one, Tiger, Tiger Coffee Bar, because Secret Garden looked a little more refined, and I was after something with a little more spunk.
I’d woken up at 4:30am that morning, to catch a 6:25am flight to Perth, so a coffee was definitely in order. I ordered a long macchiato, and was a little surprised when I was presented with this:
Apparently, long mac in Perth is the same as a strong latte in Melbourne. The waitress explained to me that a Melbourne-style long mac is referred to as a ‘traditional mac’ in Perth (or at least at tiger, tiger). All of this confusion aside, the coffee was really quite good. The waitress did offer to re-make it for me, but I felt bad for being a walking cliche – I was dressed in all black that day, so I must have been quite obviously a coffee nazi from Melbourne – so I just drank the latte.

Being my first visit to the place, I thought I’d try the eponymous ‘the tiger’ – poached eggs with avocado and tiger, tiger’s ‘rosamond sauce’ on sourdough.

This was, in a word, amazing. The eggs were perfectly poached, and the rosamond sauce, something like a chutney, with sultanas and something which was either tamarind or sour plum, still has me intrigued. The consistency was somehow heavy and jam-like, yet there appeared to be some sort of whipping or emulsification happening there, too. I’m going to have to set to work trying to recreate it soon. Its acid tang was a perfect match for the richness of the avocado and runny yolks. I also liked how the toast comes buttered, as it removes any chance of the sourdough experience being one of dry bread requiring sips of coffee to lubricate it down your throat.

If you’re after breakfast in Perth, I highly recommend tiger, tiger. Just be aware it gets pretty busy Saturday mornings (and, like most everything in Perth, it’s closed on Sundays).

Tiger, Tiger Coffee Bar on Urbanspoon

Baden Powell Hotel

65 Victoria Pde, Collingwood
Phone: (03) 9486 0811

For the past year, it’s been a bone of contention as to whether the Prince Patrick Hotel or the Baden Powell Hotel should be called my local. Well, there’s also the Peel, but this isn’t that sort of blog. So you can pretty much triangulate the exact co-ordinates of my house, for those playing along at home.

Anyway, having been here on a couple of occasions before, and being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pizza, I recommended that Alex of the MSG should add it to the Pizza Battle list. He was a little dubious, but the opportunity arose, so we went down to test it out.

We started off with some snacky stuff; chips are always a good thing to judge a pub’s kitchen on, I think. We also got the arancini.

The chips were pretty top notch. Thick cut, they were crispy outside, and soft and fluffy inside. The aioli that came with them was pretty good too, though not particularly garlicky. More like mayo, really. The arancini were significantly bigger than I thought they would be, and you could probably just have the dish on its own for lunch, though a side salad might be a nice accompaniment. They’re filled with a bit of beef sugo (bolognese) and some mozzarella so you can have fun stretching the cheese about when you cut into it. Dey wuz some good rice balls.
We followed this up with the Bruta – salami, bocconcini, artichoke puree (and not mentioned on the menu, but quite plainly, basil was on there). When it arrived, Alex was immediately bothered by the amount of oil floating across the top of the pizza. And while there was quite a bit, i don’t think it was really the Gulf of Mexico, and that’s sort of to be expected when you order a pizza with salami on it.
The base was pretty good – crispy yet with a bit of bready give, it wasn’t too dry, and had a nice charred flavour from the oven. That being said, it was no D.O.C. or Ladro crust. The toppings were generous, and the chilli oil provided as a condiment wasn’t really necessary. The thought of adding more oil was a little off-putting, actually.

All in all, the Baden Powell is a great, relaxed place to share some good pizza with friends. The service was nothing short of impeccable – friendly to the point of charming, efficient and responsive almost to the point of being pre-emptive – though it was pretty empty, so the staff weren’t particularly stretched that evening.

Baden Powell Hotel on Urbanspoon

Hien Vuong

aka Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur
146 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 1470

I’m almost ashamed to say it, but father forgive me, it’s been over two months since my last bowl of pho. I know, it’s somewhat blasphemous. I used to eat it pretty much every other day when I was living in Viet Nam. Mostly for breakfast, sometimes lunch. For those of you who are planning a visit to Sai Gon, here’s my googlemap of gustatory goodness.

Anyway, I recently had time to stop in at Footscray for a late lunch on my way between work meetings. So there really wasn’t a decision to be made as to what I was going to eat, it was just a matter of where. As I was coming from the West, I thought it would be good to be methodical about these things, so I stopped at the first Pho specialist on Hopkins St. I’ll be systematically working my way down Hopkins St, before trying the other streets of Footscray in search of the ultimate pho.

So first up, on the Westernmost end of Hopkins St, is Hien Vuong. Or rather, Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur. The Pho part of the name is a bit superfluous, but as the noun precedes the adjectival phrase in Vietnamese, I suppose it’s like saying ‘Hien Vuong’s Pho’, the way you’d say Danny’s Burgers. The ‘Pasteur’ part is, I believe, the restaurant’s attempt to attach itself to the legendary Pho Hoa restaurant on Pasteur St, opposite the Pasteur Institute, in Sai Gon. There’s a Pho Pasteur in Sydney doing the same thing… oh, and I’ll be blogging on that soon!

Hien Vuong is an unassuming pho specialist joint, with the requisite TV screens – oddly playing children’s television and not some Vietnamese entertainment gala (there were no children in the restaurant at the time) – mirrored walls, laminated tables and accents of bad 90s decor. Everything a pho joint should have, on the surface.

For those of you who don’t know, or can’t remember, I almost invariably order the pho bo dac biet, more commonly referred to as the beef special. For some reason, I decided to go for the ‘small’ this day. As I’ve expounded before, I have a theory that at some restaurants, this just means you get the same amount of pho in a smaller bowl. I think it’s the case at Hien Vuong.
There are three things that make or break a pho for me. The broth, the beef (and offal), and of course the noodles.

First, and most importantly, the broth. This is what varies the most from restaurant to restaurant, each having their own recipe, no doubt. Pho broth should be clear, and relatively oil-free. It should smell punchy and fragrant, with cinnamon, cardamom, star-anise and cloves all present in the mix. There should be the tiniest bite from the ginger, and a sweetness from the onions. It should taste like beef, not MSG. Though the umami should be palpable. You should NEVER have to add fish sauce nor hoi sin sauce to a good broth. They’re at the table for you to dip your tripe and other offal into. It pains me to see people with murky dark brown pho broth, almost as much as it pains me to see people dumping soy sauce all over their fried rice. The only things you should be adding to flavour your pho broth are lemon juice, and fresh chillies.

The broth at Hien Vuong was pretty good, despite a definite, though not too heavy-handed, use of MSG.

There are various standard items involved in a pho bo dac biet. The core of these comprises of the beef brisket – which should have a certain amount of fat on it, I feel – and the rare beef, which is essentially raw fillet, over which the piping hot broth is ladled. It should arrive at your table still pink. A little jiggling around in the broth usually cooks it to the right degree.

Then you have your processed meats. There’s almost always some beef balls (no, not bull testicles, but more hyper-processed meat balls, with a springy texture) and usually, you get a slice of a peppery beef sausage.

Finally, there’s the offal. Tripe, and if you’re lucky, tendon. Most places serve up the thinner part of the tripe, which looks something like those strippy curtains you see at an automatic car wash, or some tatty vertical blinds. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I get a chunkier piece, though it still usually won’t be the honeycomb tripe you get at yum cha. The tendon pieces are usually chunky cylinders with a texture somewhere between chewy and gelatinous. They’re something of an acquired taste, I think. I used to be a bit put off by them as a child, but I love them now. Both of these, I like to dip in a mixture of hoi sin and chilli sauce.

The various beef goods at Hien Vuong were of good quality – especially the rare beef, and the peppery beef sausage. The brisket could have done with a little more fat, but I’m being picky now.

The noodles, in my experience in Melbourne, don’t tend to vary too much from restaurant to restaurant. However, what is important here is the noodle-to-beef ratio. You don’t want too much noodle and not enough beef, but at the same time, I hate running out of noodles and having all this beef left over floating around in the broth. So it’s a tender balancing act. Hien Vuong walks the line on this quite well.

While it’s got stiff competition I’m sure, Hien Vuong stands up quite well, and I’m sure I’ll be back, barring the discovery of Ultimate pho.

Hien Vuong (Pasteur) on Urbanspoon

The Abyssinian

277 Racecourse Rd, Kensington
Phone: 9376 8754

It was a little bit of serendipity. Belly filling serendipity. I had to meet up with @jeroxie and @eatnik to plan an upcoming event, and the only time we could all squeeze it in was before their dinner with the @eatdrinkstagger crew at the Abyssinian. Wait, what? You guys planned a dinner at the Abyssinian without me? Oh, someone cancelled and there’s an opening at the table. Sure, I’ll come along!

So nine of us trundled down to Racecourse Road, through the insipid Melbourne drizzle, and spilled through the door into the warm, vibrant interior of the Abyssinian. After a cursory glance at the menu, we unanimously decided on the set banquet (with meat – there is a vegetarian option, but that’s not how we roll) and added a beef dish. The beef dishes contain raw beef – think beef tartare – so aren’t part of the standard banquet.

We also took the chance to sample a few of the Ethiopian beers on the menu. I recommend the St George. It’s a pretty light style beer, which goes well with the mild curries served up here.

As there were nine of us, we were presented with three huge platters, each lined with injera – an African flatbread which has the spongy texture somewhere between a pancake and a crepe. Injera has lots of little bubbly holes in the surface, which makes it especially great for slopping up the sauces of the stews and lentils with which it’s served. There’s also a great little tang to the injera itself.

The injera comes topped with the various stews and curries that it is the accompaniment for. From the top, clockwise: braised vegetables, goat, lentils, chicken, beans, fish, more lentils, lamb. @jeroxie commented on the incredibly low overheads for the restaurant, as the way you attack such a huge share dish is with your hands! So no washing up of cutlery, and we were provided with little paper plates.

I love this style of communal eating. There’s something about sharing food and diving in unadulterated by cutlery that just seems so much more personal and close than even sharing dishes at your local Chinese restaurant. I guess it’s got something to do with the fact that you’re counting on each other to have clean hands? Nothing like an implicit contract of hygiene to bring people closer together.

Each of the stews were good in their own right, but my favourites were definitely the curried chicken stew (very similar to a Malaysian curry, funnily enough, but without the strong coconut milk presence) and the darker version of the lentils. They had quite an great kick to them, where the yellow lentils were a lot more mild.

The beef dish was someting of a disappointment. I was expecting an intense, raw beefiness to hit me when I put it in my mouth – I’m a fan of rare/raw beef, for those of you who don’t know about my yukke and pho obsessions – but the beef seemed to have been somehow tempered with salt and oil. It seemed less raw and almost a little bit cured. Not altogether unpleasant, but definitely not what I was expecting.
In a mammoth team effort, @jeroxie, @th0i3 and I managed to finish our platter. Then we groaned about our full bellies for a couple of minutes, before @th0i3 and I ordered the ‘cream caramel’ for dessert.
Yeah, I was a little bit dubious about creme caramel being served as a dessert at an African restaurant – we used to serve a packet one at our restaurant in Swan Hill – but the yearning for something sweet to finish off the meal was too great. It came out, and after one spoonful, I knew I was not going to leave any of that deliciousness in the bowl once I was done.

I’d definitely recommend you head down to the Abyssinian if you haven’t been there yet. Head down with a group of your besties, and feast it up. Just make sure you wash your hands beforehand!

The Abyssinian on Urbanspoon

Mario’s Cafe

303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 3343

About a decade ago – and I can’t believe I just wrote that – I used to go to Melbourne Uni, so naturally, I spent a fair amount of time in and around Carlton and Fitzroy. While time marches on, and many things change, some stay the same. Like Mario’s.

Famous for the career waiters with an attitude which, depending on who you ask, is either surly, no-nonsense, or charming, Mario’s has been dishing up reliably good Italian food since well before I first went there in the late ’90s. So when meeting up for dinner with a group of Mr N’s friends and a little unsure of where to go, we went for the safe and familiar option. The fact it was across the road from Black Pearl, where we were knocking back aperitifs helped its cause, too.

My attention was caught by the specials board, and I ordered the lamb rump with eggplant mash, beans, red capsicum and goat’s cheese.

It was alright, but the eggplant mash needed seasoning, and was a little on the lukewarm side. The lamb was well cooked, but again, under-seasoned. Perhaps this was just some sort of Italian restraint thing I don’t get, but I thought the dish could have done with a sauce.
Mr N’s friend Mr N (confusing when you shorten people’s names to a single letter!) ordered the lasagne, which looked of quite a decent size, but having just come from the gym, he was left a little unsatisfied. Note to bodybuilders: order two serves of pasta at Mario’s.

Mr C had the baked gnocchi with bacon and ricotta (or fetta, I can’t remember – which do you think it is?). It looked like a smallish dish, but being gnocchi, it doesn’t take a lot to fill you up. He was very happy with his choice. I think I would have been too.

Mr N and Miss K both chose to have the braised lamb shank, which looked and smelled great. A super hearty meal, which was what the drizzly Winter night called for.
Mr J went for the classic steak, which came out with homely looking vegetables and potato rosti. Again, looks like it could have dealt with a little saucing, or some mustard?
Mario’s doesn’t really do sophisticated food. But if you’re after somewhere ‘safe’ to take a group of people you don’t know very well, it’s a pretty good option.

Marios Cafe on Urbanspoon

+39 Pizzeria

362 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9642 0440

I had been invited to go along to one of the pizza battle heats being organised by Alex of the MSG blog. I rushed off early from the Moortangi Estate tasting to meet @alexlobov and @jillianjtl for some pizza battle tasting, around the corner at +39. It was jammed full of people, with quite a few milling around the entrance as I stumbled in. These people looked a little peeved at me when I walked right past them and found Alex and Jillian already seated at a table up the back.

+39 is the creation of the people behind D.O.C., and style of pizza is pretty much the same. The vibe, however, is much more urbane, with exposed concrete everywhere, and moodier lighting. And yes, it was a very busy Thursday night, but the service was patchy at best. We had to ask twice for our drinks, were presented with menus after we had already ordered, and waited about half an hour before even receiving our drinks. Thankfully, the pizza came not too long after.

Alex ordered something off the specials board, involving Italian sausage, some fancy mozzarella (scamorza?) and silverbeet. It was pretty good – I liked the sausage, but we’ll not go into my history with Italian sausage, because this is a family blog.

I have a soft spot for broccoli on pizzas (I’d like to think it’s because it creates the illusion of nutrition, but it’s actually I just like broccoli a lot) and when I saw that +39 had paired it with anchovies (see my D.O.C. post about the quality of their produce) my decision was made for me. This pizza was pretty great, though after about two slices, I found myself following Jillian’s lead and adding some of the pickled chillies to it for a bit more of a kick.

Jillian ordered a pizza with another fancy cheese – taleggio? fontina? – truffle oil and rocket. It’s hard to go wrong with the heady earthiness of truffle, so keeping it simple here was a good idea.

I liked +39, despite the lacklustre service. I’d say wait for the hype to die down somewhat, and hopefully it’ll be a better experience for you.

+39 Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Moortangi Estate

Disclosure: I got to go to this free wine tasting, and they also gave me a bottle of Cambrian Shiraz as a present.

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to a wine tasting put on by the owners of Moortangi Estate. They’re a small family winery which has vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Unfortunately, the Black Saturday fires wiped out most of their vines, but luckily the vines were of old enough stock that the root system remained intact, and new vines are currently on the comeback. In the mean time, Moortangi have sourced grapes from the Heathcote area, and with them, have produced two wines – a 2005 Cambrian Shiraz, and a 2005 Old Vine Shiraz.

Now I’m not a true wine afficionado, but I do know a little about the subject. I mean after all, designing and doing the data entry for over two hundred wines in Fosters’ wine portfolio teaches you a thing or two by osmosis.

The Cambrian Shiraz is not your typical Heathcote Shiraz. Which is just as well, because I’m not a fan of Heathcote Shiraz. At least not when you compare it to a McLaren Vale or a Barossa. This Cambrian drinks a little more like a McLaren Vale in my book – it’s extremely fruit-driven (read a bit sweet) with strong cherry and plum flavours. There’s also an interesting mix of pepper and coconut in the aroma, and the tannins are very mild. My sort of Shiraz.

The Old Vine Shiraz, by comparison, is a more robust and heavy wine, with more tannins – that funny dry sensation you get on the tongue – and a lot less fruit. Some people call this complexity, I just call it dry. I’m not a fan, though sometimes it’s a good thing; when you’re eating rather rich foods.

The rich foods we ate with the Old Vine were four awesome cheeses: a Roy de Vallees (my favourite), Reggiano, Cheddar, and Roquefort. All strong cheeses, which was a good match to the Old Vine Shiraz.

It was great to see and meet some other foodbloggers that night, even if I had to run off for pizza – see my post tomorrow! – others who have blogged this event:

Sarah at Sarah Cooks
Thanh at I Eat Therefore I Am
Ling at My Kitchen and Gym Diary

You can find Moortangi Estate wines at various restaurants around town. I forget most of the list – I don’t spit at wine tastings, I swallow – but Cutler & Co. was among them. They’re looking into retailers, so you may be able to get them at a bottle shop soon, too.

Paisano lunch with Adriano Matteoni

OK, I said that Bourke Street Bakery would be my last Sydney post for a while, but I lied. I couldn’t not share with you all the wonderful lunch prepared by Adriano Matteoni (of Clipper and Clover fame). It’s almost unnecessary to say that the food was all amazing – of course! – and we were all completely sated.

L & R: The green of beans with roast garlic and mashed peas with basil and lemon zest.
L: Beef “almost-carpaccio”, the makings of a panzanella salad. R: A vinaigrette.
L: The mashed peas were added to elbow macaroni and a hefty amount of parmesan – so smple, yet so delicious! R: The panzanella salad takes shape.
Dressed carpaccio; lunch is served!
Adriano made me a latte on his little home-sized Giotto. The consummate professional even at home, check out the fern action!

Thanks to Adriano and Kana for a wonderful afternoon!

Bourke Street Bakery

633 Bourke St, Surry Hills (Sydney)
Phone: (02) 9699 1011

The last of my Sydney posts (for now)is about the Bourke Street Bakery. My cousin took me there after breakfast at Fifi Foveaux’s, so we weren’t really hungry. But it was on my to-do list, and it was just down the road from where he lives in Surry Hills, so we thought we’d head down anyway.

Apparently the Bourke Street Bakery is now a chain, with other outlets in Ultimo and Marrickville. But as with most places which branch out, the original is often the best. This place is still so good that people line up around the corner just to get their baked wares, and like us, eat them in the park across the road!

Having read about the pork and fennel sausage rolls on Claire’s blog months ago, I didn’t really need to read what was on offer on the board, or peruse the baked goods for very long. My cousin similarly recommended the pork and fennel sausage rolls, so the choice was pretty much made for me.
I’d also seen these little beauties on Claire’s post, and being a big ginger fan, couldn’t go past them.
The sausage roll didn’t disappoint. The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but trust me when I say this is about three cuts above your average sausage roll. There’s virtually no flour/breadcrumb filler, so you don’t get that pasty texture, and instead there’s the firm springiness of real mince. The flavour is phenomenal, and the pastry was rich and flaky. It reminded me of a patechaud/pateso, only substitute the pepper for fennel.
I should note that I managed to get the recipe for these sausage rolls from a friend who has the cookbook, and have since made them at home. I just used store-bought pastry, but they turned out spectacularly well!
The ginger brulee tart was wonderfully sweet and the custard filling was smooth, though I would have liked a little more of a ginger bite. The brulee top was light and thin, but perfectly crunchy.
If you’re ever in Sydney, get thee to a Bourke Street bakery!

Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tap House

T2 Domestic Terminal, Sydney Airport
Phone: (02) 8335 3000

After our weekend in Sydney, we were all dreading airport food a little, but had thought we could probably avoid it, our flight being scheduled at 7pm. We could be back home in Melbourne and hitting Chinatown for some late-ish dumplings before heading home to bed. But thanks to a three and a half hour delay on our Tiger flight home from Sydney, Mr I, Miss D and I found it necessary to park ourselves at the T2 domestic terminal’s local. Tap House.

Tap House is a pretty standard modern pub setup, albeit in an airport terminal. There’s about four beers and a cider on tap, and a reasonable selection of bottled ones. The wine list is short, but again, reasonable. In fact, we were surprised the prices weren’t inflated because of the airport location. Still, it’s just the domestic terminal – I think the international terminal might be another story.

While Miss D and I were still too full from our ramen and prawn mee earlier in the afternoon, Mr I somehow found the will to order a burger.

It was a bit of a mistake, really, but not because of the quality – it was reportedly quite good, and certainly looked fresh – but because of the size. Challenging would describe it well, especially given that Mr I’s belly was probably still full of collagen from the earlier tonkotsu meal.
I thought I’d take a more sensible option, and just ordered a bowl of wedges. Little did I know that I would be presented with an almost comically oversized serve of wedges. Which I proceeded to nurse until they got cold over the ensuing two hours left we had to wait for our flight.

So apart from the surprising find of good pub grub at the airport, the delay wasn’t all bad. We made friends with the delightful Miss V, who was similarly stuck in Tiger-induced limbo, and had recently moved to Melbourne. While I’m not eager to fly Tiger again any time soon, I do have to thank them for having been the cause for making a new friend. Serendipity strikes! 🙂

Tap House on Urbanspoon