Review: A European Sandwich

Last weekend was a European sandwich, in dining terms that is, with my weekend sandwiched between two awesome Euro-dining experiences. 

First up, on Friday night, was dinner at Epocha. This is an intimately lit on-trend restaurant tucked away on the edge of the city opposite Carlton Gardens. The back of the menu features a reproduction of a historic map of Melbourne, including Carlton Gardens and Epocha’s location, but it was what was on the front of the menu that really captured my attention. It’s a lovely mix of classic French techniques, hearty German inspired dishes and a few summery Italian style salads and sides. That sounds like a confused menu, but actually it all works well together. 

We started off with a few lighter dishes that I’d class as Italian: polenta chips and a fig and buffalo mozzerella salad. The salad was really special – sweet and creamy and tangy, with just a little crunch. I probably could have just had a big plate of that for dinnner and been more than happy! Then we went a little bit French with duck-fat roasted  potatoes (minus the duck fat for me) and an heirloom carrot salad. Finally, my friend and I shared a big plate of spaetzle, which is sort of like a mini German dumpling-cross-gnocchi. That was served with a summery topping of roasted and creamed corn, tomatoes and zucchini. Being vegetarian, I opted for a lot of vegetable based dishes, but non-veggies are well catered for in traditional European style – you can start with three different varieties of oysters and back it up with anything from quail to crispy pigs’ ears to beef ribs or confit duck. 



We were too full for dessert that night, but I have experienced their extremely tempting dessert trolley in the past – it won’t disappoint, the Europeans know what they are doing when it comes to cake! You can also opt for a sharing menu, which includes dessert and will leave you feeling about the size of Europe, but very satisfied. With a bar upstairs (not always open), the wine list is extensive and on the expensive side of things and the cocktails are excellent, if not a bit limited in range. 

This dinner was followed, on Sunday afternoon, by a trip to Paris. Not an actual trip (I wish), just a short visit for my tastebuds in the form of ‘High Tea in Paris’ at The Waiting Room at Crown Towers. The high tea is part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival calendar and is offered until mid March. I hadn’t been to The Waiting Room before and I have to say the ambience wasn’t really 5-star in that you do sort of feel that you’re half sitting in Crown’s lobby, with a lot of people passing through. The food and service though were excellent and definitely made the high tea worthwhile. The menu starts with champagne and finger sandwiches, which is pretty much the most delightful way a menu can start! The finger sandwhiches, served on individual wooden boards, included smoked salmon, a mini toasted croque monsieur (ham and cheese) and rock lobster and caviar. For vegetarians the selection included more classic cucumber and cream cheese, egg salad and brie with fig and quince paste. The brie/quince one was not a winner at my table, as it was weirdly sweet and kind of dry, but the cucumber sandwiches were a standout. 



Following sandwiches, you get to choose three showcase cakes each from a beautiful selection in glass cabinets at the front of the restaurant. I went with a hazelnut chocolate mousse cake, a raspberry creme brulee slice and a macaron and amaretto sponge cake. The cakes are glossy, multi-coloured and many layered creations which look almost too good to eat. Somehow we managed though! They were all very nice, though probably too large and rich considering they were part of a high tea and I did see a few guests take away elements of their high tea in boxes provided by the staff. In addition to these cakes, you are also served a small square of nougat, mini madelines, chocolate fudge and a mini fruit gel. Finally, you get a choice of three chocolates each, again selected from a glass cabinet at the front of the restaurant. For the chocolates, which I ended up taking home with me, I selected a rocher au lait, a cassis violet and chocolate rose praline. Yuuuuum. Seriously yum. We were both in a sugar coma by the end, but a happy one. Considering the high tea includes hot drinks and a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne, I think it is good value for $65. 





Advertisements

The Commonwealth Games and Sushi Pandas

Sport. It’s a topic you’ll rarely read about on my blog. People who knew me at school would know I have about as much sporting talent as a sloth…in a straightjacket. And if you’ve stumbled on this blog via some search engine algorithm that looks at the first word in a blog, well, turn back now. Seriously, I don’t know my League from my Union. I don’t know who is at the top of the AFL ladder or the top seed in tennis. I’d only watch the Tour de France for the landscapes and men’s diving for the…ahem, pool vistas?

However, I do love the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. I’m really not sure why. I’m not particularly patriotic. I haven’t even heard of most of the Aussies representing us. But I absolutely love watching the Games. When the Olympics was on I made my partner and me subscribe to Foxtel so I could have nine simultaneous channels of Olympics coverage. At the moment, with the Commonwealth Games on, I find myself up at midnight on a work night, watching something stupid like clay pigeon shooting and literally bawling when an Aussie wins, or even just does well. What the? My only explanation is that I do tend to have a bit of an obsessive personality.

And here’s where I get back to food (and those errant sports readers should click away now). Because my short lived but obsessive love for the Commonwealth Games is well and truly surpassed by my many brief but intense foodie fads. There are plenty of foods that are perennial favourites which I love to eat, always have loved and could eat every day if I allowed myself to, things like: chocolate brownies, gnocchi Napoli, almond croissants, cheese and bikkies, stewed rhubarb, pad thai, fresh mangoes, buttery mashed potato, slow cooked eggplants or apple pie. And then there are the short lived foodie infatuations, some of which I’m a little embarrassed to admit. The stupid, the silly, the over-the-top and the too trendy. They are the late night Pinterest finds, the Masterchef finale dessert challenges, the Kmart kitchen demonstrators’ dreams.

Not a passing fad: I love slow cooked eggplant, especially these heirloom ones grown by my mum.

Not a passing fad: I love slow cooked eggplant, especially these heirloom ones grown by my mum.

My top ten food obsessions which lasted about as long as a Commonwealth Games tournament are:

Truffle oil – I went nuts for this for a while and it’s an expensive habit. I still think truffle oil is great. But on a pizza or mashed potato only, maybe a soup. Not on every single savoury dish. Otherwise everything just ends up tasting the same, and oily.

Square plates – A few years ago I bought two sets of 8 square plates – 8 mains and 8 side plates. At the time, again, I thought they were the sexiest thing ever. Now they just look so 2005. On the upside they do stack very neatly in the dishwasher.

Sushi Pandas – for the uninitiated, this is a ball of sushi rice decorated with black seaweed so that the balls look like baby pandas. No, I’m not kidding. Google ‘panda sushi’ and see for yourself, seriously. I’m not sure I’m entirely over this one, they are just so ridiculously cute!

Making my own fettuccini – it’s super silky but there’s way too much kneading involved, not to mention the rolling through the machine. They never show quite how painstaking it is on Masterchef, especially when it’s for a big group of people. I’m not quite sure why I bothered when I live so close to fresh pasta on Lygon Street and at the Queen Vic markets.

Tempeh – vegetarian restaurant Shakahari does it really well, I do not. I kept buying it and trying to do it well because I’m a vegetarian, which means I should be good at tempeh right? Right? *Cricket sounds and tumbleweed*

Miniature…everything! – It started with miniature cupcakes. Then I decided all desserts should be miniature. That was stupid. No self respecting sugar addict like me should want to downsize her dessert.

Stacking food – I blame earlier series of Masterchef for this. I bought a quite extensive and heavy set of metal food stacking rings a few years ago which I carted home with me from the UK. Now it’s all about the sauce smear and plates that look like gardens and my food stacking rings sit gathering dust in my parent’s kitchen.

Savoury scones – Scones are just better with jam and cream. I got into herb scones. Miniature herb scones with beetroot jam, probably served on a square plate.

Food in jars – I may not quite be over this obessession either, but the love of hipster style food in jars is fading. I’ve done trifle in jars, cheesecake in jars, chocolate mousse in jars, breakfast in a jar…you get the idea.

Rose flavouring – There are limited things that should be flavoured like a rose. I found some beautiful French natural rose flavouring in a fairly big bottle and I purchased it. It got to the point where all my dessert started tasting like grandma deodorant. I think this obsession died when I attempted to make my own Turkish delight (which actually should be rose flavoured) and my mum said it reminded her of playdough.

Procrasticooking

I didn’t coin the word, sadly. But I love ‘procrasticooking’. I actually saw it as a status update on Facebook and thought, wow, yes that summarises several hours of my week in one nice little word. I’m thinking there are many others out there too, who make elaborate dinners from Gourmet Traveller rather than the vacuuming, attempt a MasterChef style croquembouche tower rather than study for an upcoming exam or turn into Jamie Oliver, pumping out masses of pucker tucker when what you should really be doing is making an appointment to see your dentist.

To get all technical on you for a moment, to procrastinate is to delay or postpone action, to put off doing something. For me procrastination has a sort of wilful-yet-hopeful attitude to it. So when I procrastinate I very earnestly and industriously do something else, all the while kind of hoping that while I watch Game of Thrones or go for a walk my assignment might just actually write itself.

Cooking and/or baking is definitely one of my favourite activities to avoid doing something else. Hence my joy at discovering this new term. I’ve since learned that Urban Dictionary actually has an entry for ‘Procrastibaking’, Procrasticooking’s sweeter doughier cousin. There’s also a blog called ‘Procrastibaking’ and a Facebook page dedicated to it. Obviously I haven’t been doing enough procrastinating to know this!

When I was at Uni I used to procrasticook during the SWOT VAC week. Thinking ahead I’d reason that, when in the midst of complex and intense study, I’d hardly be breaking to make myself dinner. Yet I still had to eat. My brain required better fuel than bananas and three packets of Tim Tams a day. So at the start of the study week I’d make all these dinners, eat some and freeze the rest. It worked pretty well, but I did lose a day of study to my procrasticooking…and I still ate the Tim Tams.

Procrasticooking can be a very creative activity. See, sometimes I’m desperate to avoid something so I go into the kitchen and think, ‘yes, I’ll make a cake, that will solve everything, right?’ However, making something on the spur of the moment probably means I haven’t got all the necessary ingredients. In the past this has led to me inventing alternatives. I’ve made custard when I had no milk (mixing cream with water by shaking it together in the tub works perfectly), cupcakes with no butter (use vegetable oil or sour cream) and a random salad of canned things (canned corn, canned beans, canned chickpeas, plus some garlic and herbs), which was surprisingly good.

Cooking and baking are certainly not the only things I do when procrastinating. I’m procrastiblogging right now, since I’m blogging from bed and avoiding getting out of it. I procrasticlean a lot. Never is my desk so tidy as when I’m under pressure at work. Sometimes I even procrastiexercise, despite my normal lazy attitude to going to the gym. Then there’s the whole going online and procrasti-planning-holidays-I-can’t-yet-afford thing. But procrasticooking perhaps has an edge on these other forms of procrastination in that at the end of your procrastination you have created something. Something solid, measurable and hopefully delicious. You can stand back and look at your giant stack of blueberry pancakes and think yes, it was worth losing that hour of time I should have spent sending emails to do this, because look what I made, look at its glorious pancake-iness, I am a goddess of the kitchen, hear me roar….Ah hem, anyway, you get the idea. You get a product at the end of your procrastination, something to hold on to while you pump out the last of your essay at 11:52pm before the midnight deadline.

So procrasticooking can be a good thing. But like any procrastination, it can be a bad thing if it gets to the stage that you actually fail to do the things you need to do. Delay is ok, complete failure might not be so healthy. In that vein, I’m now going to get out of bed, do my dishes and then get ready to get on a flight (to Sydney) for the weekend. I hope you all have many procrasticooking adventures this weekend!

PS – in a spate of procrastination a few nights ago I’ve redone the look of my blog. Hopefully it is easier to navigate and just, well, prettier. Love to hear what readers think!

PPS – I’ve also included pics of a few yummy things I’ve been eating in North Melbourne lately. These are partly for you and partly to motivate me to get out of bed and make breakfast! Or just go to Di Bella…

Semolina gnocchi at Stovetop in Carlton

Semolina gnocchi at Stovetop in Carlton


Signature muesli at Di Bella in North Melbourne

Signature muesli at Di Bella in North Melbourne

Can't go past a Di Bella chai latte

Can’t go past a Di Bella chai latte