Chorizo Ragu with Polenta

Chorizo Ragu on Polenta

Just to prove that I can and do still cook on occasion, what with all these fancy schmancy restaurant reviews peppering the pages of late.

This dish is a highly unfaithful recreation of a dish I was fortunate enough to enjoy at a Slow Food Perth lunch in a what seems like a lifetime ago, making sausages at the home of Vincent Vitrelli. After wading our way through a good 100 kg or so of pig, we had time for a spot of lunch. The dish of the day for me was a delicious creamy polenta topped with Monte San Biagio sausage mixture, simmered in a little white wine.

This attempt had nowhere near the finesse of course, but I am happy to announce that my love of polenta is now assured, as is my ability to think of it as something other than the dry brick served at some Italian restaurants.

For the Ragu
Take a couple of good chorizo sausages (I had neither so I used some fairly ordinary chorizo and upped the paprika , chilli, and garlic levels myself) cut them up into chunks and set them to simmer in a glass or two of red wine. Add chopped garlic, onions, and tomatoes, and let it simmer until it starts to break down. At this point I added some chicken stock, salt, pepper, and passata, and then just let it all reduce down to a stewy consistency. A dash more paprika, and some fresh parsley finished off the dish, which was probably cooking for 30 mins or so.

For the Polenta
Despite what you may be thinking, there is no real trick to it. Aside from make sure your polenta is well lubricated with water, a little milk to finish, and I season mine with butter, salt, and cracked pepper. I’m not sure if this is heresy or not, it may well be, but it personally tastes like cardboard otherwise…
Whilst I’m happy for the polenta to be the starchy vehicle to drive the ragu home in a nice marriage of texture with flavour, I would prefer to be able to do something with it on it’s own.

I used a pretty standard brand, and initially used 3 cups of water to 1 cup of polenta. Set this on a medium heat and bring it to the boil… then reduce and let it simmer and bubble away until it gets thick. At this point I add more water, half a cup at a time, and continue stirring until it absorbs. Somewhere down the line, add some milk, a 100g of butter, and a good dose of salt and pepper, until the flavour is something in the realms of tastiness and the texture is soft and gooey. I like my polenta quite runny, and find it cool to watch the science experiment take place as it firms up on the plate when served.

I’ve been told its ready when the polenta starts to stick to the sides of the pan properly, but that seems an inexact method for me, so just let you conscience be your guide.

Serve it with a rioja or perhaps some fava beans and a nice chianti…

1907

1907

Meanwhile, back in Perth, life still goes on. It’s more than a couple of weeks before the now larger than life sized trip to Melbourne, and there’s plenty of serious eating to be done til then. As well as concerts, my Dad’s 60th birthday, and possibly some actual work.

So the latest place to get noticed on my food radar, came by an interesting set of circumstances. I was at home busily preparing dinner for guests when Sharon called. “Have you heard of 1907 ?” she asked while I busily shelled beans and tried to work out if my dates were sticky enough. “The year ?” I respond… “Only vaguely and in black and white”… (Aren’t you glad you’re not her :) ).

“No… (exasperated pause) I just got some spam email about a new restaurant called 1907… look it up.”

“Sounds dodgy” I reply, before getting ensconced in making sure my lamb shoulder and haricot stew wasn’t too tomatoey.

Surely enough though, that ever present need to know what is happening first crept back in, and I took a moment while the stew was simmering away (on a medium low heat for 90 minutes) to peruse this curious new venture who had decided that mass email marketing was the way to do a soft launch.

Turns out the restaurant is:

…a world class restaurant and bar housed in a 100 year old rag trade factory, situated in the hub of Perth’s former fashion district. 1907 is the result of an idea to evolve Perth’s inner city, maintaining its old charms and incorporating cutting edge design to match a world class dining experience provided by our enthusiastic team of hospitality professionals.

Well fair enough then. The photos on the website look nice, and the menu sounds interesting, and despite the fact that head chef Graeme Shapiro once appeared on an Ainsley Harriot show, I figure it’s worth checking the place out.

So on a casual Wednesday night after a gym session and realising that there was no food left in the house, the decision was made. Sharon decided to dress classy, and I went for something that could be described as post work chic (which in reality is all I can do to match up). Of course she ended up looking glamorous, and I looked like an over sized school boy.

It’s just as well we made an effort though, because this place is swish. A barely concealed frontage, with steps leading up to a set of large foreboding wooden doors immediately open into opulent surrounds. The designers have clearly spared no expense on the interior, and aside from some unfortunate choices in music (for mine), it did feel like we’d been transported somewhere very unPerth.

The wait staff were friendly without being being intrusive and come across as knowledgeable but not cocky. I thought I’d caught one of them out for a moment when I asked if the (complimentary) bread was made here, which he replied it was… small rye loaves and a slices of focaccia.

So we ordered a bottle of Bellarmine Chardonnay that I thought would go passably well with all of our dishes. There is a very limited list of by the glass selections, which the Maître d’ recited for us. Clearly quick meals and glasses of wine are not the desired way to dine here.

To start with we shared the manjimup marron and port lincoln mussels steamed in broth of
tamarind, lime leaves and coconut cream. Quite a mouthful on the menu, and equally so on a plate. Our waitress brought side plates so we could easily share the dish, which was thoughtful. The marron was personally a little chewy, perhaps it was undercooked. The broth was delicious though, the lime and tamarind create a lovely sour counterpoint to the sweetness of the marron.

For mains I ordered a seared duck breast and duck tortellini, while Sharon had the masala spiced gnocchi, braised fennel bulb and baby spinach. My duck came medium rare, as I like it, and in an oddly sweet sauce, which for the life of me I can’t remember (and it doesn’t seem to be on the menu on the website). Sharon’s gnocchi was actually good… As opposed to almost every gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. It was light and airy, and the masala worked really well with the fennel. Overall the food was good, though perhaps not heightened experience I was looking for. Though there is a “menu prestige” degustation which we could have opted for which may offer some added finesse.

The total bill came to $150 for two people. Which to be honest is not expensive if you compare it to what the vast majority of mediocre restaurants in Perth are charging at the moment. Add that to the effort that’s gone into the design and service, the private dining rooms, and the funky cocktail bar downstairs which is the latest place to be scene for inner city hipsters, and you’ve got quite a compelling package.

Now please email this post to all of your friends and let them know…

1907
26 Queen Street
Perth
Telephone: 08 9436 0233

1907 on Urbanspoon

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Melbourne – Prepare Thyself.

Slippery When Wet - by Mugley
Image used courtesy of Mugley

I know what you think… You Melburnians. You think that you live in a city blessed with the finest and best value restaurants in the world. With hidden bars so cool that no one knows about them, with liquor laws so relaxed that most bums on the street are running funky little wine bars out of their shopping trolleys. Your espresso flows with the flavours that only a rich Italian heritage can imbue, and celebrity chefs are lining up to fill your casinos with the fanciest dining experiences available.

But I’m not buying it.

My last trip to Melbourne was a disaster. I was young, naive… immature. I thought I could gayly prance my way about the city and run into good food, wine, and coffee at every turn of the corner. That every tram stop was just a hidden alleyway away from the best dining experience of my life, and that every cafe was just waiting for me to order a coffee that would be the best I’d ever tasted.

Ok, so I was clearly delusional. Still, I had somehow built up that idea in my head. Only to be presented with bland over priced food, terrible coffee, and “institutions” that should have been closed down years ago (Perugrinos, most of Lygon St).

This time around, I’m not leaving anything to chance. I’ll be coming over for the finals of the Australian Barista Competition, so the coffee issue should be well and truly sorted. Restaurants, and bars however, are entirely up for debate.

I’ve been hearing many things about many restaurants of late, and have been checking out plenty of blogs for inspiration, but what I’m hoping fellow food lovers and seekers of truth will be able to share with me are those little pearls of wisdom that never quite make it into the travel guides and search results for “best restaurant melbourne”.

I really want some great, unique dining experiences that showcase the best of what Melbourne has to offer, at all stages of the price spectrum.

So far on my tentative list are:

Bar Lourinha or Movida
St Judes Cellar and/or Panama Room
Bistro Guillaume
Lau’s family kitchen
The Commoner
Rumi
The Press Club
Giuseppe Arnaldo and Sons

This of course may not work out, because I’ll be there for roughly 6 nights, and there are clearly more than 6 restaurants on that list. A little whittling down to the absolute essentials may be in order.

So… those in know… please step up to the plate. Let me know where the real Melbourne is, and also how to tell the difference between the cool alleyways, and the ones I’m going to get mugged in.

Cafe Zekka

inside Zekka looking up

Sometimes I feel far too uncool to be a cafe reviewer. At Cafe Zekka, that isn’t particularly hard. The places oozes cool and style, and if hipness was a liquid it would be coursing through the very veins of this new King St cafe. It’s enough to make a geek like me run for cover and hide myself in the gadget section of GQ.

Though the stylishness is not surprising however, when you consider that the co-owners of Cafe Zekka also run the funktastic Test Tube in Mt Lawley, and a tres chic guys clothes shop next door (which I will have to get the name of, and perhaps try and buy some fashion sense from).

But whilst there is plenty of style to the place, the reassuring thing is that there’s also substance.

Managers Aaron and Bill have made sure that the food and coffee is a lot more than just an afterthought. The coffee is being supplied by Campos Coffee from Sydney. It’s a big undertaking to be shipping coffee from over East, and not something I’d be doing unless I had a product of Campos quality to rely on. Will Young of Campos is ultimately committed to his product however, making sure that each of his contracts are making espresso up to his standards, and refusing to supply those who don’t.

Aaron is formerly of Tarts in Northbridge, and also helped establish Lincolns in Highgate, and really loves his coffee. Will from Campos came over to make sure he was on the right track and was happy with what he saw, which is evident in the effort he puts in. Bill was formerly the man behind much of the good food that Lincolns made, and will be making all the lunches on the premises as of today (they were temporarily supplied by the good people at Sayers), now that the ovens have gone in.

Campos Superior Blendreflections in brownInside looking outCafe ZekkaMoroccan lamb pieinner city scapesOutside looking inZekka gets tropicalTart from ZekkaZonte's Footstep ViognierAntipodesArroz a la ValencianaMacchiatoJackson pretends to write stuffZekka cupsZekka Espresso

So what of the food and coffee then ? The espresso follows the Campos style (as it needs to), and displays a comfortable level of acidity that the Superior blend is famous for, but without going overboard, there’s some definite body and kick to it that finishes off nicely. Perhaps poured longer than I’m used to, but a lot of that comes down to personal preference and it’s good to be able to appreciate espresso in all it’s various permutation from cafe to cafe. A double shot flat white in a small tulip cup punched through the milk with ease.

The food we had was also fantastic. A moroccan lamb pie and a roast mushroom quiche, served with a fresh green salad with avocado and roast chicken. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of Bill’s creations, as he really has a flair for tasty lunches.

If you’re lucky enough to be a part of the CBD set, then make sure you take the time to wander a bit further down King St, and check these guys out.

** A little update with some new photos from Zekka, who have now changed to using local Crema coffee, roasted in Perth. They also have the power team of Jackson (formerly of Tiger, Tiger) and Ledeta running the cafe, and are open Friday’s for BYO lunches. Grab a bottle of wine and head in for specially cooked meals.

Cafe Zekka
74 King St, Perth
Phone: (08) 9481 1772
www.zekka.com

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The Flying Taco

The Flying Taco

The Flying Taco is the latest edition to the North Perth Mexican food scene (making a grand total of 2). Owner and chef Anna (formerly sous chef at George St Bistro in East Fremantle) has an obvious love and passion for Mexican food that shows through in her simple but very tasty menu.

The concept is simple, you pick a taco, quesadilla, or burrito, then pick what you’d like to have in it.
At present the list of fillings is:

Carne Asada: Grilled sliced steak marinated in lime juice, garlic and oregano
Carnitas: Pork shoulder stewed then fried, with grilled fresh pineapple
Mole Poblano: Shredded chicken in festive sauce of chiles, nuts and chocolate
Pescado: Fresh fish, green chiles, spring onion and coriander (tacos and quesadillas only)
Vegetarian: Crispy potatoes and zucchini in a pasilla chile sauce

Then you choose a salsa to go with it, which at the moment are:

Pico de Gallo: Fresh chunky tomato, onion and green chiles
Salsa Verde: Blended tomatillos, garlic & green chiles
Salsa Chipotle: Smoky, spicy red chiles

So far I’ve dropped by for a carne asada quesadilla, and Sharon and I went back the other night for a carnitas and a mole poblano burrito. All of it has been great. The steak particularly juicy and tender, with enough cheesy goodness to bind it all together when fried inside the quesadilla.

The fact that they’re open late is something I think will be a big hit with the locals stumbling out of the Rosemount looking for a kebab alternative, as well as the late night workers and other chefs getting off work, wanting something tasty and simple to line their stomaches before crashing.

Check out the flip books at the counter for a chuckle, and try the El Salvadorian cola Kolashampan (if it’s there… the stuff is popular and hard to get hold of).

The Flying Taco
40 Angove Street,
North Perth
Tel: 08 9227 6393

Open Late

The Flying Taco on Urbanspoon

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