Velvet Espresso

Velvet Espresso

The latest in the line of sexy new cafes run by people who know their stuff has hit the CBD. Velvet Espresso on King St is now open for business and pouring a fine brew indeed. I dropped by for lunch with Ben (W.A Barista Academy honcho and pin up boy for the Perth coffee scene) this week to check out the place and see how it all stacked up.

Justin Kenny, owner and barista of Velvet has a good track record in the Perth cafe scene. He owned Fix Espresso back in the days when it was actually making good coffee, and gained a reputation as a man who knows his stuff, quiety going about his work and impressing with the results.

Velvet Espresso is an excellent addition to the King St set. It’s relaxed but stylish, with lush dark wood tones on the tables and a Florence Broadhurst print on the walls. It looks the part, but what is more important… it tastes the part.
The King St area is currently dominated by cafes that earnt their reputations a long time ago (King St Cafe), and who now have fallen away into what I term espresso mediocrity (Cino to Go, Etro). They might look fancy, but the quality in the cup is a long way from ideal. Velvet changes all that.

Coffee from Velvet Espresso

Justin is using a great locally roasted ‘5 Senses’ blend. It’s full bodied and robust, with a bit of edge to it, and a slightly spicey aftertaste. It’s what I’d call a great drinking coffee, and it works well in a short cup as well as in milk. The shots are pulled quite short to get the best elements of the flavour, without the lingering bitterness that so often destroys a shot of espresso. What’s more important though, is that it’s all a work in progress for Justin. He’s still refining his blend to get the exact flavour and style of espresso that he wants. A concept that I’m sure is completely alien to the majority of cafe owners in this city, who are happy with whatever Vittoria or Segafredo or “Insert Generic Italian Sounding Crap Coffee Brand Here” gives them.

They’re also serving some very tasty sandwiches and rolls, and Justin’s mum’s friands (that she bakes fresh each morning) are bordering on levels of tastiness to rival some of *my* mum’s baking (well, close anyway :) ).

If you work in the CBD, go and check out Velvet Espresso. It won’t disappoint.

Velvet Espresso
5/172 St George’s Tce (Enter on King St)


Moroccan Chicken Pie with 3 Bean Salad

Moroccan Chicken Pie and 3 bean salad (with a Moroccan funk to it)

So I should admit from the outset that I am to Moroccan cuisine what “Hey Hey it’s Saturday” was to quality television. But just like Darryl and Ozzie and that crazy crew of pranksters with their wacky hijinx… I just refuse to quit. So this post is my homage to not being particularly good, but giving it a bloody good go anyway.

If you’re thinking that this should possibly be called bstilla, or bisteeya, or b’steeyilla, or cheryl… then you are right (unless you said cheryl). Bstilla is indeed the dish I had in mind when I started making this, but then i got half way through and towards the end I realised I had no almonds, no icing sugar, no ground ginger, and little desire to intricately layer 500 sheets of filo pastry on top of each other to make it properly… hence I give you… Moroccan Chicken Pie !

The dish was based loosely on a combination of versions made by Jules of Stone Soup and Melissa of Travellers Lunchbox. Both excellent sites and great recipes. Sadly, I had neither the time nor the patience to follow the directions set out by either of these ladies, and so the resultant dish is suitably less refined.

Moroccan Chicken Pie

  • Chicken (the ladies used thighs, I used 2 large breasts… no really)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon crushed
  • Tablespoon or two of fresh ginger, minced
  • 150g butter
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayene pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • handful of chopped coriander
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 sheets of puff pastry

Moroccan Chicken Pie

How i fooled the Moroccans
Basically I cooked the onion and garlic together in the butter, until they were soft and breaking down. Then added the ginger and other spices. At this stage it could be the basis for an interesting Moroccan Risotto… but i’ll save that for another day. I added the chicken breasts whole, and when they were mostly browned all over, poured in the chicken stock and stirred it all around.

Once the chicken was completely cooked, I took it out of the mixture and let it cool, then shredded it into little bite sized chunks, before turning up the heat on the stock mixture and letting it reduce right down.

When the stock had reduced to about a third of its original volume, I added the eggs, which had been beaten together with the coriander and the lemon juice. This creates a kind of thick spicey egg slurry, that could quite easily turn into scrambled eggs if you wanted it to… but I keep stirring it over a low heat until it had just come together and then took it off the heat.

Now in a pie dish, butter up some sheets of pastry and lay one in the bottom of the dish. Add the shredded chicken first, and then spoon over the cooled egg mixture. Now add the other sheet on top, fold it all in nicely so it’s looking like a pie, and pop it in the oven on 180C for about 25 minutes or so.

If you were really making a bstilla, you would have used flat filo pastry instead of puff pastry, and layered many levels on the bottom along with blanched almonds and ground ginger… and then folded the pastry over the top of the mixture, and then decorated the top with more almonds and icing sugar… Of course we weren’t doing that, so the jury will disregard everything I just said…

Now onto the bean salad.

Three Bean Salad

  • 1 cup kidney beans
  • 1 cup haricot beans
  • 1 cup broad beans
  • Lots of olive oil
  • 1/2 diced red onion
  • handful or two of spinach
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons crushed cumin
  • salt and cracked pepper

A salad mostly consisting of 3 kinds of beans

How I overcame bean adversity

I have to admit that beans and me do not sit well together. I think it all stems from the fact that when I was growing up, my sisters were always given baked beans on toast, and my brothers and I were given spaghetti on toast. I think I honestly believed for a long time that girls were supposed to eat beans and boys were supposed to eat spaghetti… But gender alignment issues aside, I thought it was time to give them a go, and not from a can for once.

So having procured a few different varieties of dried beans, I had to find out how to prepare them. There were 3 options as I saw it.

      1) Soak the beans overnight in cold water in the fridge
      2) Boil the beans in hot water for 10 minutes and then leave to sit in hot water for a few hours
      3) Boil the beans in hot water for as long as they bloody well take to soften up, regardless of how much they split in the process

Clearly I chose option 3. Into a pot of salted water with enough to cover the beans by an inch or two, and then onto the low heat
for what was probably an hour or so in the end. I forget exactly but I was testing each type of bean every 10 minutes or so for softness, and eventually I got to the point where I really didn’t care if they were soft enough anymore. Which fortunately coincided with the exact right time to stop.

The rest was simple. Into a bowl goes the beans, the diced onion and spinach, a healthy glug or three of extra virgin olive oil, a few good pinches of sea salt and a couple of cracks of black pepper. The juice of half a lemon (or a whole one if you’re feeling feisty), and a couple of teaspoons of that quintessentially Moroccan essence, cumin.

Stir it all up and serve.

And there you go… Invite your friends around and impress them to no end with your faux-Moroccan cuisine. If that doesn’t work, just drop the word Ras El Hanout a few times, as long as you’re not pronouncing it Rass Al Hannut, then you’re on your way to instant North African popularity.

Fennel, Lime & Tatsoi Risotto with Backstrap of Lamb

Fennel, Lime & Tatsoi Risotto with Rare Spiced Lamb

I think learning to make my first risotto was one of the steps that launched me into the world of real cooking. I’d seen so many TV chefs making fancy looking dishes and thought they sounded so involved and elaborate as to be out of reach to the common home cook. So when I first decided to throw caution to the wind and have a go myself, It was with great delight and virtual high fives that I managed to make something actually come out the way it looked in the books.

These days though, I’m almost reaching risotto overkill. It’s still my goto dish when I can’t think of anything else to cook, but it doesn’t hold the same interest as it used to, to the point where it’s almost getting a little passe. I whip out my usual set of ingredients, follow the standard mantra of onions, garlic, leek, butter, rice, wine, and stock, and away we go. Add a bit of this, a bit of that… more stock, and it’s all done.

So I won’t bore you with the details of how I made this dish, other than to say check out any of my other risotto recipes for a more indepth explanation of the process. I think the name says it all really…

Fennel, Lime & Tatsoi Risotto with Rare Spiced Backstrap of Lamb

Points of interest are that I used backstrap of lamb, which is one of the tenderest, juiciest, most deliciousousest (I just wrote that you make you all sound like freaks while you’re reading this) cuts of lamb you will find. It’s not cheap mind… It comes in long thin pieces and was $35/kg from Mondo’s in Inglewood… I have yet to find a cheap Chinese butcher equivalent because apparently they aren’t so keen on lamb.

I basically seasoned the lamb strips with my normal quasi-middle eastern spice profile of olive oil, cumin, fennel, coriander seeds, and lots of salt and pepper. Then seared it quickly in a hot pan with a little butter on both sides… Not for too long as it’s quite a lean piece of meat, and should be served towards rare (in my carnivorous opinion).

Other notes were the lime and fennel in the risotto. I added quite a bit of lime zest and then the juice of a whole lime to lighten the risotto up. I didn’t want it to be too heavy as the lamb would be there for that. The fennel was added later on so it didn’t break down entirely, just got quite soft, and then some Tatsoi was stirred through right at the last minute. You might be familiar with Tatsoi as a salad ingredient. It’s a leafy asian green related to bok choy somehow (I think she married his uncles second cousin)… and it has a real peppery kick to it. Something a bit different anyway.

It all turned out so nicely that I made it twice in the same week :) When food tastes this nice, you can call me passe anyday…

Latte Art Pro Style

I dropped into Epic again yesterday and learnt an important lesson. If you hang around long enough talking to the barista’s you get handed all sorts of great coffee to try :)

I happened to come in while Megan (W.A Latte Art Champion this year) was going through the motions of making and perfecting every drink on the menu… just for practice (!) My latte art skills are quite obviously lacking compared to this… but perhaps one day I’ll be able to pull a few of them out. The coffee again was great.

The Manwich


This one is gonna be a quicky because most blokes aren’t overly fussed on details. In short, here is my version of the kind of meal every self respecting Aussie guy should be able to create without looking like a complete pansy.

I made these the other night when some mates came around to play poker, drink whisky, and smoke cigars… Despite the fact that extensive effort actually went into preparing the food, we managed to have just the right balance of meat, alcohol, gambling, and smoke to make sure we stayed out of the “more than likely gay” category normally reserved for guys that can cook (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The Manwich

  • Steak – the thicker the better
  • Bread – the thicker the better
  • Bacon – the thicker and fattier the better (ok maybe not)
  • Eggs
  • Lebanese Cucumber
  • Cos Lettuce
  • Spiced fruit chutney (I used chilli chutney)
  • Japanese (kewpi) mayonnaise
  • cheeeeese (slices of Jarlsberg are nice, or whatever you got)
  • Onions

Instructions are for wimps of course, but I will humor those of you out there who need a little direction.

Take some nice thick slices of bread. I actually made these twice in a row, the first time around with lebanese bread rolls, and the second time with thick slices from a loaf of soft Italian bread. Whichever kind of bread you use, just made sure you don’t overdo the toasting. I put both into the oven for a little crisping and managed to leave the turkish bread in for too long, meaning the gambling took a back seat to some concentrated chewing to get through the outer shell.

The only other important thing is the steak. The steak must be cooked to perfection. It doesn’t matter so much which cut you use, but it has to be melt in your mouth soft and juicy. I used both a thick rump steak, and a porterhouse steak for my efforts, following my same steak cooking technique for both.

Season the steak well with sea salt (Maldon salt flakes) and cracked pepper, and a generous libation of extra virgin olive oil. Leave it to sit for a little while and then straight into a hot pan. Now is where you need to be careful and not just let it sit there frying itself to a sad dry crisp.

Using your fingers, give the steak a poke and see how much it bounces back to you. I’ve heard two tricks for measuring doneness. First one is to touch your thumb to your forefinger, second finger, and pinky finger, and then touch the palm of your hand next to your thumb. The feeling of your palm as you change fingers from forefinger to pinky, is roughly like the difference between rare and well done.

Gordon Ramsey does a similar test by touching your cheek, chin, and forehead with the tips of your fingers, and equates rare, medium rare, and well done to the softness and bounce of each of those… but if you’ve got a chubby face and/or no chin… you might be in trouble (ala me :|).

So… once your steak is cooked to your level of doneness (which is hopefully between rare and medium rare), take it out and put it on a plate to rest. Resting is absolutely crucial in making sure your steak is as juicy and tender as it can be. The meat needs time to relax and let the juices flow through it. If you cut it up straight away they are all going to drain away and you’ll be left with a dry taudry mess.

When the steak has rested for a good 10 minutes or so, slice it up into lovely pieces, and get the rest of your ingredients ready.

The bacon would best be grilled for crispiness, and the eggs fried however you like them. My trick is to just crack them into a non stick fry pan, add a few tablespoons of water, and put the lid on. Perfect fried eggs in no time at all.

The only other thing to do is caramelise the onions in a fry pan with a couple of tablespoons of raw sugar and a little butter or olive oil.

Cooking done, just assemble all the bits together. My layering went.

Bread (with chilli pickle spread)
Bread (with japanese mayonnaise)

Now the only challenge left is being manly enough to eat it with your hands without picking bits out… I call that decadence wrapped in bread.

Manwich take 2