30 December 2007

Pet dining peeves

Urban Dictionary.com

8. annoying

Doing something or experiencing something at such a level that it becomes annoying. (like listening to too much ska, or radiohead)

Dear sir/madam, Please desist said action because it's unbeleivably irritating. If this request is not met within an adequate amount of time, I will kill you with a rusty shovel

I'm forty one and grumpy. Mr Stickyfingers is older and grumpier, so it's inevitable that this blog is a place to vent. I love to dine out and when it comes together well I am elated for days - even weeks. But when it goes wrong I can be jaded for months.

I've worked in hospitality doing grunt work at the back of house and leg work at the pointy end. Each person has their role to fulfill and mostly it's straight forward compared to my life in the corporate world, but why is it that in restaurants, so often it doesn't come together well?

Here are my dining gripes for 2007. Feel free to chime in...

Pet hates in dining

Menus gone global, listing everything from pasta to nachos and oriental themed dishes, none of it executed well – too cheap to hire a chef, they fast tracked the apprentice and the short order guy?

Menus that are too wordy and list every thing every technique – I don’t need to know it all, I’ll taste it

Menus that read well, but don’t deliver in the execution – you got someone else to write it for you, spun some ideas to a consultant who doesn’t actually cook there, and your chef doesn't have the
skill to match it

Bad spelling on menus – you need the consultant to proof read your menu

Restaurant websites or PR that declares that there is a coeliac or vegetarian menu but they don’t actually deliver on that promise – ever seen a table for ten walk out without ordering?

Restaurant websites that are not updated with current information – get with the program people, it’s cheaper for most to surf online than buy food guides

Restaurants that don’t confirm reservations or return calls – we have no recollection of your booking – WTF!

Excessively elaborate combinations of flavours that overpower the produce – too cheap to hire a chef, they fast tracked the apprentice and the short order guy?

Fusion Cuisine where neither the Occidental nor Oriental has been mastered before splicing together ingredients from the opposite culture – too cheap to hire a chef, they fast tracked the apprentice and the short order guy?

Poor culinary technical skills – you want to be a celeb chef but couldn’t be bothered getting the basic training, so faked your resume

Celebrity Chefs who are rarely in their own venues – El Segundo syndrome, it may as well be your second’s restaurant, not yours

Paying for bread – it’s a basic thing

Clearing the bread before entrée arrives or even before the main – bread is not a course and I may want some more to mop up that excellent sauce

Frozen butter in foil – please explain

Tasteless olive oil for dipping – thanks, I’ll dunk it in my wine instead

Having to ask for table water – it’s a basic thing

Paying for still water – it’s a basic thing

Poor service – it’s fundamental to your view of a venue

Rude service – do you want to keep your clientele or do you think we’re masochists?

Argumentative service – you're an equal opportunity employer who hires bi-polars and people with advanced MS?

Arrogant waitstaff – no tip for you

Not writing down orders – we know you’re human, odds on you’ll mix up the order

Waitstaff asking who ordered which dish – didn’t anyone teach you about cover numbers?

Dirty Cutlery and lipstick stained glasses – thanks but did I hear you say that bacteria was today’s special?

Dirty toilets – my stomach turns at the thought

Torn and dirty staff uniforms – if the front of house looks crap, what’s going on behind the scenes?

Waitstaff leaning over you to reach something – approach from the side I have no desire to smell your armpit

Waitstaff lacking relevant knowledge to their vocation and the menu they’re serving – is Chef too inexperienced to brief front of house and hire trained people?

Clearing plates before everyone has finished the course – in a hurry to go on a break are we?

Being told that we have to leave a restaurant by a certain time - you’ve cut it fine on turning the tables and now you expect me to tip you?

Extortionate winelists – are you trying to get me to drink spirits?

Not having my wineglass topped up or having it over filled – too cheap to hire a sommelier or train the troops?

Loud music – what did you say, oh you’ve lost your voice from shouting

Interiors that amplify sound – what did you say, oh you’ve lost your voice from shouting

Too many seats for the size of the venue – no PG, I didn’t order a side of butt cheek in my face either

Intimate lighting that requires the aid of the light on my phone to read the menu – I’ll just have the steak bumface and pomfriteroles

Bad timing of courses – no order or discipline at the pass

Produce inferior to that which I can source myself – feel cheated and may as well stay home

Commercial processed ingredients – are you kidding, you can’t hide it by having good PR on your side

The innate flavour of the produce killed by seasoning – ok, so you have to be more intelligent to cook simply, but why smother a good thing anyway?

Paper napkins in expensive establishments – hire a laundry service, you can claim it

Expensive wine served in cheap, clunky stemware – what a waste

Low banquettes that leave me resting my chin on the table – I feel like a kid again

Seats so hard you get pins and needles in your posterior – if I wanted to eat like the homeless I’d sit outside on the pavement

Arctic airconditioning – if I wanted to eat like the homeless I’d sit outside on the pavement

Candle smoke from cheap candles – it blocks my nose and gives me asthma

Overpriced Grill restaurants serving cheap tasteless produce – some cheap Greeks ripped me off again

Pretentious venues that skimp on the portions – often the case of style over substance for a skeletal clientele

Portions so large that it takes three diners to consume one meal – next time we’ll order one dish and share

Giant pepper mills – The Chaser said it all

Flaked salt in mini bowls with no utensil provided - it’s a hygiene thing

Waiters who ask “Is everything is OK?” when you have a gob-full – splutter, spit, hmm, shake/nod head

Food that has sat under the heat lamps or Salamander too long and wilted or developed an unintentional skin or crust – if I wanted more skin I’d be dressed in mink, return to sender!

Hot serving plate, cold ingredients, equalling unintentionally wilted, melted or scorched results – wrong, wrong, wrong!

Steak not cooked to order – it’s a basic thing

Well done meat, tuna or salmon – I beg you, stop the massacre

Poor quality coffee and no decent Barista – I’ll have the peppermint tea

Sugar sachets in expensive venues – God is in the details

Guests who feel compelled to broadcast their lives to all others in the venue – put a sock in it and go eat at one of those noisy places

Mobile phone yellers – take it outside, better still get that stupid thing surgically attached, wanker

Passionate kissers – what are you doing here? Take it outside, better still get a room, I'm going to gag

Space invaders who feel the need to encroach on your seat or table – are you trying to bust a move or are you just oblivious to everyone else?

Eating outdoors surrounded by smokers – you may have no palate but don’t inflict it on me

Knives held like scalpels and not overhand as they should be – Mr Sticky, you included. Call Ms Manners! I'm a stickler for traditional dining etiquette

Parents who let their children roam unattended in venues – teach them the joys of dining and involve them in the theatre of the venue

People who need condiments, gravy or tomato sauce on everything – c'mon maaaate!

People who eat the bread as though it were a course – Troglodytes!

Diners who salt and pepper their food before tasting it – the chef does have taste buds

Diners who complain that the meal served is too salty, after doing the above – go figure?

Illegible bills – in this day and age, there’s no excuse not to have an itemised docket

Diners who split hairs over the bill when dining as part of a group – puh-lease! Too rude!

I’m sure I’ve left half of them out. What’s your beef?

29 December 2007

A Pot Luck Christmas

Now the Princess Pat...
(children repeat each phrase after you)

Lived in a tree
She sailed across
The seven seas
She sailed across,
the channel too
and she took with her
a rig of bamboo

A rig of bamboo
now what is that?
It's something made
by the Princess Pat
its red and gold
and purple too

Thats why its called
a rigabamboo

(repeat chorus)

I'm a Buddhist partly raised by Catholics, Protestants, Confucian Tao Buddhists and Jews. I make a stab at being charitable all year around. But for most Aussies, Christmas is when they do it and along with that comes the festive scramble of parties and gatherings, leaving many people stressed and emotionally overwrought.

This year's Sticky Christmas gathering moved from our house to a rented house by the sea and new hosts. So we were relieved of the need to buy multiple free range turkey hens to smoke in the Weber, large meals to prepare in our tiny galley kitchen and the juggling of the diet conscious and those with bland bogan palates. There was no need to prepare the house nor to move the furniture around to accommodate Mr Stickyinger's Christian half of our family.

No, instead this year, after years of kow-towing to certain outspoken relatives for a piping hot, sit down meal of traditional fare with lots of choice to cater for finicky eaters, we went casual. It was what the North Americans refer to as Pot luck. A Kris Kringle of food offerings. We were told to each bring three dishes as there would be guests visiting from the UK and consequently a great many mouths to feed.
Mr Sticky's niece directed us to bring salad and the ham.

As usual I had my Christmas order of locally farmed and smoked ham on the bone - who could pass that up? This year's offering was just under 6kg, or $90+ of the leanest smoky pork I've seen, with an especially thin skin.

All Mr Sticky's siblings had
also been asked to bring salad along. And mindful that there would be a vegetarian present, I went for our tried, true, simple and easily transportable vegetable jumbles for the 40minute drive. We left the traditional garden salads and coleslaw to others.

The car was filled to capacity. Two six seater folding tables and chairs, 30 glasses, cutlery, utensils, plates and table cloths fought for room with the drinks, gifts and food. We needed Sherpas at each end of the journey. It was like moving house.

On the
festive table of assorted offerings, I lay a huge burnished gold platter of rocket with tons of freshly shaved Parmesan and lashings of my usual emulsion of dressing, alongside Mr Stickyfinger's Chargrilled Salad. We call it this because although he doesn't usually involve himself cooking our meals, he is happy to wield the tongs on a Barbecue to make this, while I do the prep and the dressing.

It's a sexy salad, red, gold, purple and rustic. The warmth of the grilled vegetables enlivens the tons of freshly torn herbs and it is merely dressed with just the fruitiest Extra Virgin Olive Oil to hand. Mixed with the hands and piled onto a terracotta Spanish platter it smells of the freshness of the garden, begging to be eaten and tantalising with its deep, regal colours.

While the other salads on the festive table sunk deep into their plastic bowls, ours stood their ground boldly and were quickly devoured in spite of their being the largest vegetable offerings of the day. They proved more popular than
a curious Mushroom Croustade, and even the roasted potatoes. I was proud. I could have happily skipped the meat. I love those salads.

Next time we eat Mr Sticky's salad, it will be served with slow aged, rare roast beef and homemade Hollandaise sauce.


Although we use locally farmed (SOLE) etc produce it works as well with regular market sourced supplies.

1 large red pepper
1 large eggplant
1/2 Butternut pumpkin
1/2 male fennel bulb
1 large bunch of thick stemmed asparagus

4 cloves of garlic, bruised with a cleaver

Herbs - 1 small handful, torn, of each:
Flat leaf parsley
Fennel leaves
1 sprig Rosemary (optional)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) - Fruity or robusta
Cold Pressed Lemon Olive Oil (optional)
Salt - coarse grain ( Murray River Salt)

Chop larger vegetables into similar sized pieces. Butternut pumpkin is used because it doesn't go to mush on cooking and should be cut to the same thickness as the eggplant. If you're in a hurry, the eggplant can be cooked briefly in the microwave to avoid brining. The Pumpkin may also be par-cooked either in the nuclear reactor or on the stove top in the traditional manner.

Cut asparagus stems in half and if quite thick, split vertically too. Place all of the vegetables in a large bowl and anoint generously with olive oil and salt. Tear up herbs a put aside.

Starting with the red pepper and pumpkin, chargrill all the vegetables on a gas Barbeque or very hot Cast Iron stove top Griddle until they are soft and charred. Finish with the asparagus and garlic as they will take the least time to cook.

Transfer all the cooked vegetables to a bowl and add the herbs. Mix the herbs through gently with your hands, jumbling the vegetables in the process. You will smell the herbs releasing their scent on contact the the warm vegetables. Add a generous slosh of EVO and the lemon oil - if you have it - mix and then spread onto a platter.

26 December 2007

Santa and me


You may have come across naughty Santas
who can't control their hands. But have you ever heard of a woman being arrested for groping Santa?

That's exactly what is alleged in the US, with a woman facing sex assault charges after an incident at a shopping centre.

Santa claimed a woman touched him inappropriately while sitting on his lap at Connecticut's Danbury Fair mall over the weekend.

She was charged with fourth-degree sexual assault and breach of peace, The News-Times reported in its Tuesday edition.

She was released on a promise to appear in court on January 3.

I’ve been told that I’m difficult to buy presents for.

Apparently it is difficult to distill my eccentricities because unless you share my taste it can be hard to come to grips with.

I like Mid-Twentieth Century Modern Design, dress alternatively, jog in stilettoes - in fact I'm sporting a towering pair of fuschia satin heels as I type. I'm breaking them in. Tomorrow I will wear them with a simple dark olive gown and a matching fuschia corsage to distract from my decolletage as part of a wedding ensemble. Mr Stickyfingers will have a matching boutonniere. But I digress. For now, back to my confounding taste.

On my iPod there is anything from Break Beats to alternative, all forms of Jazz except Trad and have playlists for Brazilian, Classical, Ska and Punk. I have a small collection of vintage scarves but I prefer travel to hoarding stuff. I like boutique Art based jewellery from local Jewellers and Silver Smiths. I was raised around wine and know my stuff. The cupboard is full of Riedel O series (that's pronounced like NEEDLE, not the High School in Grease). I have 24 crystal champagne flutes, but my favourite drink is a dry martini.

I’m allergic to paraffin based candle smoke. Candles are reported to be one of the most unwanted gifts in Australia, alongside foot spas and novelty neck ties. We have no room in our little home for generally popular crud. That stuff resides in storage at Kennards until such a time as Mr Stickyfingers can offload it on eBay.

Where I am easy to please is naturally enough with gourmet or boutique groceries, cookbooks and gadgets…and dark chocolate.

So this year, after the annual bun fight, it was with great pleasure that Mr Stickyfingers and I received the following:

375ml Maggie Beer Extra Virgin Olive Oil

375ml Maggie Beer Aged Red Wine Vinegar

285gm Ogilvie Sundried Tomato Mustard

190gm Byron Bay Cookie Co. Fig and Olive Tapenade

100gm Oi Mild Chilli and Olive Tapenade

Puccini Amsterdam Bomboni – hand made dark chocolates

25Og Unibic Chocolate Chip biscuits

Ferrero Collection Chocolates

Lindtdor Collection Dark Chocolates

Shortbread handmade by my Godson Cody & his big brother Bailey
(from a yummy kid’s cookbook that I gave Bailey recently)

I was overjoyed when Santa gave me Maggie Beer’s latest tome – Maggie’s Harvest. But it was the Sunbeam FoodSaver, to Cryovac all and sundry to my heart’s content, that earnt him a grope.

What was your ‘best’ present this year?

23 December 2007

Fine Dining. A tale of two birthdays

Our wine glasses had remained empty for a while. The bottle languished on our table and unaccustomed to having to pour our own wine in a fine dining establishment we had not bothered to do so. A waitress came by and reached across us to lift the $66 bottle of Poggerino Chianti Classico. Seeing that it was not empty, she immediately put it down and walked away without a word. My beloved looked across the table at me gob-smacked.

I poured the wine.

That night our entrees had preceded the arrival of the wine. Well, in fact the wrong entrée, which was duly replaced - and its replacement - preceded the arrival of the wine. I surmised that although the owner had pulled together a decent wine list, the venue was also in need of a Sommelier.

Esposito at Toofeys received good reviews in the press, and when Mr Stickyfingers wistfully recalled a wonderful meal there in the past, we decided to visit the new incarnation for the anniversary of his birth. New owner Maurice Esposito has a good Chefing pedigree including a stint at Toofeys in the good old days when Michael Bacash was at the helm.

He has worked at some of my favourite venues over the years, including stints at Stephanie’s under Robert Castellani, at The George when I used to hang out with Jeremy Strode’s former wife, and at The Kent where I loved boozy afternoons.

Then years later I found Maurice at Otto in Sydney. I would crawl in there for a comforting Melbourne style Italian meal, after a day beginning well before dawn, supervising glucose deprived models and coke infused photographic crews, before sloping off to my enormous bed upstairs at the W. He came back to Melbourne to the Van Haandel owned Stokehouse, later leaving for the more rustically inclined Il Baccaro and Sarti – two venues which most probably suited his style best.

The dining room at Esposito at Toofeys has been given a light modern touch, but it feels very bistro, and not in keeping of the type of venue with principle plates priced at up to $40. The night we attended it was full downstairs but not upstairs, even so we appeared to have donned a cloak of invisibility.

We were given a choice of a table wedged against the stairs in a dark corner or an equally awful little table at the door. We chose the latter. But it felt more like an extra table plonked in a thoroughfare between the entry, bar, kitchen and stairway, added merely to service demand, but not deserving of the staff's attention.

Our waiter in his quaint pinafore style apron, which sadly had already suffered a tear, chose not to write down our order, but later returned to us to clarify it, and still managed to cack-hand it. For most of the night we were ignored. Empty dishes languished on the table far too long and little care was taken all round.

Without giving you a blow, by blow account of the meal, it was not a successful evening. I cite the preliminary paragraphs as an example. The over riding impression I gleaned was that we were Guinea Pigs for dishes which had neither fully been practiced nor refined. The menu read exceedingly well but the execution lacked significantly.

Take for example a very bland ravioli of scallop where the presentation featured a large bubbled foam and a generous scattering of dainty little pastel hued flowers over a row of rectangular dumplings. Mr Stickyfingers said that the sauce not only resembled the sputum that accompanies a furball from our flu-ridden cat, but that it was possibly equally as tasteless.

An abalone dish with shitake filled tortellini also lacked any particular discernable flavour and failed in execution where a hot bouillon - which had sat too long on the pass - emerged tepid from a gravy boat, failing to properly cook the pasta in the bowl. Having once had a similar dish at Circa which had been a triumph of flavours and textures, this was a failure by comparison.

After having dined at Seagrass for a small wedding function the week before, featuring excellent quality ingredients and solid technique, we also had doubts about the provenance of the ingredients at Toofeys. The Toofeys website states that Mr Esposito sources where possible, directly from farmers and fishermen, but had the ingredients been of high quality, they would have had inherent flavour and the dishes would not have been bland.

Conversely, at Geoff Lindsay’s Pearl for my birthday - in lieu of Fenix - the provenance of the produce was transparent. So much so that the suppliers are noted on the menu. The dishes are also thoughtfully and deftly executed. It reeks of a venue of skilled artisans who are well versed in their craft and are supported by experienced foot soldiers who service the front of house with knowledge and good anticipation. The décor is stylish and the vibe is abuzz with the excitement of being somewhere special.

Ok, it is a given that Esposito at Toofeys is a new venture. But here a skilled practitioner of rustic Italian fare is trying to shoe horn himself in a venue that has been renowned for its quality seafood offering. Whereas Pearl has had ample time to hit its stride as Melbourne’s most pre-eminent exponent of Fusion Cuisine alongside Ezard. Sadly Toofeys comes off a Paesano masquerading as a middle aged 'Brighton Blonde' as opposed to the slick, glamourous pan-Asian woman that is Pearl.

As a marketer I would say don’t try to be all things to all people. If rustic is your thing, don’t buy a venue that has a heritage in another discipline and try to blend it with your own style. If you do that in order to keep the goodwill of the existing clientele, you will only do them a disservice and potentially lose them and more. As a chef with an excellent reputation for Italian dishes, Maurice Esposito would have fared better by focusing his abilities on that which people have admired him for most, and tailored his own venture around this.

Geoff Lindsay has the benefit of being married to a stylist; his ventures here and in Hong Kong are infused with a designer eye that is sleek and modern without seeming to be faddish or pivoting on the pinhead of fashion. It’s a strong theme that carries through from the food, to the fit out and the staff. It is a wonderful package and the food is not only clever and slickly executed, it is sublime, well balanced and surprisingly not intimidating.

Our meals at Esposito at Toofeys and Pearl cost exactly the same, but at Toofeys I felt ripped off and miserable. At Pearl the service was professional, personable, welcoming and knowledgeable. I had fun, felt special and the food was a rollickingly adventurous ride. The detail in the presentation did not rely on flowers but there were flourishes provided by Graphic Design in the form of mats and coasters, good crusty bread to be broken and dipped in quality lemon infused olive oil and the theatre of the venue buoyed with oohs and aahs.

My favourite main course of the year was Pearl’s Sashimi grade Yellowfin tuna, seared on one side only, and draped over an Asian salad of smoked fish and greens including Vietnamese rice paddy herb, sweetly seasoned with a caramel Nam Jim dressing. Although it is something I can and have made at home, I appreciate the time consuming production required to pull together the elements and the tennis elbow inducing pounding necessary to make the dressing.

To re-iterate, the quality of the ingredients in all Pearl’s dishes were exceptional. When paying in the vicinity of $150 per head, I don’t care if the food is rustic, futuristic or traditional, as long as the thinking behind the dish is sound, the ingredients are well sourced and the technical aspects of the production are spot on. I want service that anticipates my needs and staff who are knowledgeable, unobtrusively efficient and yet, ebullient. The pace of the courses must be timed well and please, don’t bring a course out just as the amuse bouche has been served.

Is this too much to ask from fine dining venues?
What do you think?

Esposito at Toofeys
162 Elgin Street, Carlton,
Victoria. +613 9347 9838

Pearl Restaurant
631-633 Church Street, Richmond, Victoria. +613 9421 4599

18 December 2007



Tapioca fried, soft shell blue swimmer crab with a salad of sour mango, peanuts, palm sugar and fish sauce with BBQ pork and rice paddy herb

Half shell Hervey bay scallops with yellow curry sauce, crispy fried shallots, coriander and lime


One side only seared Yellowfin tuna, sweet smoked fish salad with galangal and kaffir lime

Steamed Bluewater barramundi with pomelo, banana flower and hot mint salad, spring onion, sesame and ginger pancake


Passionfruit delicious pudding, lemon myrtle ice cream, champagne jelly and citrus salad

“Iced Pearl” (pictured at the head of the post)
A pearl of glazed pineapple lime sorbet and vanilla ice cream with mango and seasonal berries

Pearl's famous hot chocolate

I won't have time to blog this week, so here's the food porn from my birthday dinner at Pearl to keep you interested. Suffice to say that it was exemplary in all respects and has me thinking of a post on the provenance of a restaurants ingredients and how thy affect the dining experience. In Pearl's case they the suppliers are listed on the last page of their menu, such is their confidence in the quality and reliability of their produce. Bravo!

Fenix who? Details to follow.

16 December 2007

Wake up to sunshine

"'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last,
'what's the first thing you say to yourself?'

'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?'

'I say, I wonder what's going to happen that's exciting today?' said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."

A. A. Milne, 'The House at Pooh Corner'

Why Mr Stickyfingers never suggests we go out for breakfast:

Home made Breakfast made with locally and ethically grown produce, featuring some rare breed or heritage ingredients

Hope Farm Volkorn sourdough toast,
Poached Marsh's Traditional Free Range hen eggs,
Kartanji Park honey mint lamb sausages,
Swiss Brown Mushrooms,
Gypsy Pig bacon,
Home grown
Stupice tomato and herbs,
Home made, bright yellow duck egg Hollandaise Sauce.

Yesterday we went out for breakfast and by average standards it was fine. Today I made breakfast at home and the quality of the ingredients made it unquestionably better. Once again Slow Food and SOLE Food wins out over the produce many local cafes source. I only wish you could have tasted it.

Now, how can we convince more dining venues to do the same?

14 December 2007

No Happy Returns Fenix

Fenix. Reservation Monday December 17, 2007. Confirmed.

Mr Capaldi,

As a long time fan of yours, my partner Mr Stickyfingers thoughtfully made a reservation in November to bring me to your restaurant to celebrate my birthday on December 17. Although your venue is not usually open on Mondays, he was reassured that it would be on that particular day and the booking was accepted.

Today a message was left on his phone from Fenix. The gentleman who rang said that the restaurant would now be closed and good luck in finding somewhere else to go. No reason was given, no apology, nor alternative time to come was offered. I feel gutted. My birthday is less than a week away and thanks to the usual Christmas festivities we will no doubt find it impossible at such short notice, to secure a booking at a venue of similar standing.

I am most disappointed in the very poor and discourteous front of house service and hope that in future this will be redressed. It sadly has left us with a bitter and unsavoury memory of your establishment.



I'm not one to swallow bad treatment anywhere. I'm not intimidated by dining venues and send back food in restaurants when it is inedible or not what I ordered. I give negative feedback with an iron fist in a velvet glove, apparently in the manner that my uncle hands down sentences.

I learnt to stand my ground from a pastry obsessed, 6'4" cross-dressing, French Canadian Jewish Vegetarian, Hong Kong Restauranteur, who lived on Kraft Macaroni Cheese having survived an education in
Poughkeepsie at Vassar New York. Before that I was timid.

My friend was the epitome of a consummate complainer. He showed no fear and eloquently conveyed the ultimate conviction of his rights.

Armed with ire, I fired off the above email and cc'd John Lethlean and Ed Charles. Neither Ray Capaldi nor staff have responded.
I am so disgruntled that it is unlikely that we will visit Fenix again.

After phoning alternative venues in the wake of my unhappiness, my beloved turned to Geoff Lindsay at
Pearl - a restaurant that has never failed us on service and has always brought great pleasure to our palates. We have been accommodated for
a late evening session on my birthday. Fingers crossed that we have no more dramas.

Have you ever had a row with a venue?

(Addendum: Fenix is no longer a restaurant having changed its focus to being a function venue)

13 December 2007

Lemon Mayonnaise

LEMON MAYONNAISE - a golden bowl of sunshine

Beat in the following order until desired taste and consistency is acquired:

4 yolks of Swampy Marsh's free range eggs, from hens who rummage at their leisure in paddocks in Warrnambool, Victoria.

Third of a teaspoon of Keens powdered mustard

A splash of tarragon vinegar

A thin stream of light olive oil

A thin stream of Extra Virgin Olive oil

Salt & white pepper to taste

A thin stream of Lemon Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil from The Olive Grove, Mc Claren
Vale, South Australia

Mix velvety Lemon Mayonnaise with boiled locally grown, new season's Trent potatoes, capers and a chiffonade of parsley; season. Serve with floured, pan seared fish or a rare Black Welsh Porterhouse steak, horseradish, watercress and chargrilled asparagus.

Serve the next day with hot griddle cakes made with Swiss Brown Mushrooms, spinach, a fine dice of onion and Katanji lamb Kabana, fresh garden herbs, topped with crisp Gypsy Pig, Saddleback free range streaky bacon.

Use remaining egg whites to make a Dark Chilli Chocolate and Cointreau Souffle to taunt your neighbours with the smell.

10 December 2007

A Molecular Gastronomy Hoax

"During a recent raid
on a wholesale centre in Guangzhou City, the capital of China's Guangdong province, a large quantity of fake eggs was seized. Their wholesale price is 0.15 yuan (S$0.03) each - half the price of a real egg.

Consumers have a hard time telling a genuine egg from a fake one. This is good news for unscrupulous entrepreneurs, who are even conducting three-day courses in the production of artificial eggs for less than S$150.

A reporter with Hong Kong-based Chinese magazine EastWeek enrolled in one such course. To create egg white, the instructor - a woman in her 20s - used assorted ingredients such as gelatin, an unknown powder, benzoic acid, coagulating material and even alum, which is normally used for industrial processes.

For egg yolk, some lemon-yellow colouring powder is mixed to a liquid and the concoction stirred. The liquid is then poured into a round-shaped plastic mould and mixed with so-called 'magic water', which contains calcium chloride. This gives the 'yolk' a thin outer membrane, firming it up.

The egg is then shaped with a mould. The shell is not forgotten. Paraffin wax and an unidentified white liquid are poured onto the fake egg, which is then left to dry.

The artificial egg can be fried sunny-side up or steamed. Although bubbles appear on the white of the egg, those who have tasted it say the fake stuff tastes very much like the real thing. But experts warn of the danger of eating fake eggs. Not only do they not contain any nutrients, a Hong Kong Chinese University professor warned that long-term consumption of alum could cause dementia or mental disease."

Last week the above information arrived twice in my inbox and had been circulating by email amongst Asian friends. As soon as I read it, I smelt a rat. There are many stories emanating from China about falsified foods and consequently some of the people I know in Hong Kong have become quite cautious shoppers. But it was definitely on the nose for me.

I had a look at Hoax Slayer and there it was. In fact a Blogger was believed to have 'cracked' the myth and the scam. But it spoke reams to me about what is happening in the food scene.

I'm talking about the increasing popularity of Molecular Gastronomy. It involves
the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking. The term was coined in 1988 by Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French chemist Hervé This and has finally become fashionable. However this is not a fad that will appear on menus alongside local interpretations of Nacho's, Risotto and Laksa.

For two years the Molecular Gastronomy juggernaut that is El Bulli of Spain, has topped the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef Ferran Adrià Acosta and his huge kitchen brigade conjure astounding dishes like wizards. The result is conceptual and a play of chemistry, where traditional food textures and flavours are swapped, interplayed with scents not usual to culinaria and reconfigured to bewilder and hopefully fascinate the palate. If he wanted to I'm sure Mr Adri
à could easily reassemble an egg, but it wouldn't be cheap.

For some cooks, having mastered the rudimentary and the traditional dishes of the culinary repertoire, there is comfort and mastery in the familiar. There is some interplay and twists on the familiar. For others there is boredom which I suppose is what inspires them to move on to more daring gastronomic feats, and hence we have the new fangled Molecular Gastronomy, a dining experience that globally has a small market.

As a conceptually driven experience of dining that requires large kitchen brigades and expensive machinery it has been available in Melbourne for the diner with deep pockets for a number of years. Most however have not been receptive of it, as often diners in Australia lean to the rustic over the conceptual and quality seems to be determined by traditional Haute Cuisine, while value is prized over innovation.

At Zuccini in 2001 the team found that there were not enough early adopters in Melbourne to sustain this stream of ambitious endeavours. When Ferran Adria came out to do our Food Fest circuits, people walked out of his sessions. At Reserve, George Calombaris tried to surf the wave but failed to find a market, and has since, successfully toned it down somewhat to infuse his ideas into the Greek cooking of his childhood cuisine at The Press Club. More recently Ray Capaldi and Robin Wickens are finding their way as the affluent diner is finally swayed by the fashion in international dining guides for venues such as El Bulli, Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Pierre Gagnaire's venues in Paris and Hong Kong.

But what about the home cook? For me, I no longer use recipes. I know from sight, smell and instinct how much of an ingredient to use without weights and measures, to get what I want and have accumulated 30 years of recipe reading and master classes in order to assimilate enough techniques to invent dishes. I know how to fuse the techniques of various cuisines with the ingredients of others and am proud of the results. I imagine that for the pros this must often be the case too.

But amongst all this I now have the desire to know just why certain things work and that all comes down to Chemistry. Although unlike Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck, I have no desire to deconstruct a traditional dish and reconstruct it with a synthesis of other ingredients, like spheres of egg or pea, or even his famous egg and bacon ice cream, I do however want to know the reason how day to day culinary chemistry works.

Some of the questions that percolate in my mind are why is it if you add salad dressing ingredients in the wrong order it will separate and not emulsify? Why does it actually take a ton of sea salt to properly boil certain foods? What is the natural sugar content of certain produce and how much will they caramalise? Why is it that the humid evening air savaged my chocolate chilli souffle batter in a matter of minutes, but I was still able to rescue it - and how did I instinctively know what to do about it?

Sometimes with a little rumination I can figure it out for myself in terms of chemical reactions, but I'm also interested in micro-biology and the effects of bacteria and enzymes - to name but two items - on flavour and texture. The answers to those things I crave to learn. Ok, if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a great big nerd.

On my wishlist is Harold McGee's incredible On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, but I'm hoping to get that down the track. I content myself in the meantime by reading his New York Times Column, The Curious Cook instead. Perhaps one day I will Graduate to Herve This. But to begin with I am reading professor emeritus Robert L. Wolke's What Einstein Told His Cook 1 - Kitchen Science Explained and 2 - Further Adventures in Kitchen Science.

To use an Aussie analogy, Robert L. Wolke is the Dr Karl Kruszelniki of cooking. So far most of it confirms my own deductions with scientific evidence, such as that marinading will only affect the surface area of a piece of meat and not penetrate it - even if punctured. But there are other things such as why fish decompose faster than meat and even the molecular explanation behind producing emulsions.

I don't think that it will lead me to buying the cute molecular products now available for producing your own spheres and foams, but I hope that it will take me that step further in my culinary pursuits...

... Besides, the foam that topped Mr Stickyfingers' scallop raviolo last week at Toofeys reminded him of the cat sputum that typically accompanies a furball. I wonder what he'll make of dinner at Fenix next week?

What do you think of Molecular Gastronomy?