Bench Espresso

Rejoice East side CBD workers, good coffee has arrived to your humble lunch bar existences. No longer do you need to “make your own” or frequent an awful chain for your morning coffee fix. Bench Espresso is the newest addition to the cafe scene on the East side of Hay St, and they’re doing a fantastic job.

Vanessa Moore is the owner and chief evangelist at Bench, who takes it name from the law courts across the road, and a desire to be the benchmark for coffee in Perth. Vanessa comes from excellent coffee pedigree, she started out her coffee journey at the infamous Core Espresso in the city (arguably the starting point for specialty coffee in Perth), and then moved to Epic Espresso in West Perth, where she helped manage the store and ran the barista school. After Epic changed hands Vanessa headed off to Melbourne and did stints at Market Lane and Three Bags Full before coming back to Perth to start the task of opening a place of her very own.

The style of the cafe is very simple. Slotted into a narrow glass box at the front of an apartment block, with large glass walls and a high ceiling. The layout is minimal with a kind of modern Nordic feel. It’s surprisingly warm for a place where the predominant colour comes from the brush stone benches, but that’s because light just pours into the cafe from all around.

The coffee is great as you would expect from someone of Vanessa’s skill and determination. She’s running 3 different Mazzer Robur grinders each with different blends in them, one for milk, one for espresso, and a single origin. I’m assuming the blends will change regularly as they refine the flavours, and as new and interesting beans arrive at 5 Senses (the roaster). The shots are pulled as short doubles for the most part, rich in flavour and texture. Coffee is such a variable and subjective thing that I’m loath to give tasting notes for specific drinks, but suffice to say the blends are designed to give the customer the best possible experience in each cup. I’d strongly suggest trying the milk blend with a cappucino and the espresso blend as an espresso or long black. There is quite a bit of difference to the body and acidity of different coffees that will lend themselves to certain drinks better than others.

They also have filter coffee on offer via the Clever Coffee Dripper, basically a device with a paper filter inside it that your use for pour over coffee, a method of preparation that retains much more origin characteristics of the beans than espresso does.

One of the other things that has survived the passage of time from previous incarnations in other cafes is the hot chocolate made using Belgian couverture chocolate incorporated in molten form from a bain marie. It’s a decadent way for chocoholics to get their fix.

Whilst it’s still early days for Bench, they are already having a great impact in the area, and along with the guys at Cafe 54, they’re finally giving workers on the east some good alternatives for CDB coffee without compromises. I’m looking forward to seeing where Vanessa’s coffee journey goes from here.

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Bench Espresso
471 hay street, Perth
08 9221 1131
Mon – Fri (7am – 3pm)

Sri Lankan High Country

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This is high country Sri Lanka, Nurawa Eliya more specifically. It’s the heart of the tea growing regions of Sri Lanka, and the place where the best tea comes from. Lipton, Dilmah, Bushells, they all own plantations here, and nearly every available piece of ground that can grow a tea plant, does grow a tea plant.

We drove from Kandy to Nurawa Eliya along winding roads of dubious quality and sweeping views of the valley floor below. We were shown hidden cave temples and trudged through leech infested waters for the privilege of seeing reclining Buddha’s carved out of a cave wall. We visited a tea factory at Bluefields and were shown the tea drying, roasting, and filtering process and tasted their teas. The smell inside the drying room was intense. A thick heady tea aroma hung in the air like someone with something to hide and happy trigger finger on a bottle of eau de toilette.

We did it again at Mackwoods Estate and were given a piece of chocolate cake.

We stopped and spoke to the tiny Tamil ladies who form the vast majority of the tea picking work force. They’d smile wide with gap filled mouths and simultaneously put out their hands for money. Don’t believe any of the things you see on tea commercials, the people growing and tending the tea plantations and doing the picking get paid next to nothing. An average income for a tea picker is around 400 rupees a day, the equivalent of $4 AUD. So any tourist is seen as an instant bonus and smiles come easy for the chance to double or triple their income in return for a cliched photo.

So we paid some money, we got our photos, and we hopped back into the van and continued on down the road. Lovely tea though.

Vale Spice Magazine

It was very sad news for me (and the food loving community of Perth) when recently Spice Magazine announced that it had printed it’s last issue in Winter of 2011.

I’ve been a contributor to SPICE for the last 4 years. Since editor Anthony Georgeff decided that perhaps they might be able to make something out of my ramshackle scribblings. Since then I’ve been able to write articles on all manner of topics for SPICE including which types of pans you should choose for your kitchen, how to cut vegetables like a chef does, which iced coffee is least likely to make you heave, and espousing little paragraphed sized opinions on what’s good and not-so-good to eat in our fine city.

I love the magazine and what it stood for. The content was parochially West Australian and came from a place of deep sincerity. The front cover of each magazine always featured a person, rather than a fancy dish or some gratuitous food porn photo – reason being that it’s people who make the food industry keep running, and without the efforts of local farmers, chefs, baristas, restauranteurs, wine makers, and producers – we’d be much less better off.

I hope it’s not the last time we see SPICE. The magazine always tread the line between the commercial world and the food world with thoughtful dexterity (perhaps to their own detriment), and any other publications hoping to move into the void they have left open will have very big shoes to fill.

On a directly personal note, SPICE also had a hand to play in the direction of my life. If Anthony hadn’t found space for my article on local providore “Spanish Flavours” in Wembley two years ago, my future wife (who was working there at the time) would not have read it 2 months later and been prompted to (finally!) get in touch.

So thanks for the memories SPICE, and I hope we meet again in print, sometime soon.


SPICE Spring 09 – SpanishFlavours


SPICE Spring 08 Master Cuts

Faux Risotto of Squid

I headed out to the suburbs recently to watch a cooking demonstration inside a big fancy kitchen store.

Not being averse to buying multitudes of shiny expensive things at various times in my life, I find myself naturally at home in kitchen stores. Perusing the many isles and fondling crockery. Asking the difference between all the different pressure cookers, running my fingers across the knife blades to feel how sharp they are, and making a coffee on whichever mostly automatic machine they have setup on a bench, just to marvel at how bad it is.

The main reason I was there though, was that the cooking demonstration was being given by Hadleigh Troy, head chef of Restaurant Amuse, and not your average chef. So when I saw “squid risotto” on the menu, I knew it wasn’t going to be the kind of squid risotto your Nonna might have made.

Hadleigh takes an approach to his cooking that borders on the experimental. His use of sophisticated techniques and a focus on textural elements means his food is always unconventional, but always within the bounds of good taste. This “risotto” was no different.

The idea being that instead of cooking rice, you’re actually *making* rice out of squid. Boom. Mind explosion.

Ok, so it may not be the craziest thing you’ve ever heard (I did in fact see Mark Best from Marque Restaurant in Sydney make a similar dish on the Martha Stewart “Australia Week” show last year), but it was novel and delicious, and so I just had to try it myself.

Of course squid is not the same as rice. Arborio or Carnaroli rice commonly used for risotto is a starchy grain. over the period of time you cook it slowly in stock it releases the starch into the liquid which creates the beautiful creamy texture. We need to fake that with the squid version, and so the base “stock” we’re using is actually a cauliflower puree.

And so the recipe goes a little like this:

Recipe: Squid “Risotto”

Ingredients

  • 4 x squid tubes
  • 1 x onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 x clove garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 x cauliflower
  • ~ 1/2 Litre of milk
  • 1 x small bunch dill
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Jamon Serrano (Cured Spanish ham – to garnish)

Instructions

  • Put the squid tubes into the freezer til they are partially frozen, this makes it much easier to cut them up
  • Cut the squid tubes open, lay them flat, and using a sharp knife, very finely slice each tube into tiny “grain sized” pieces.
  • Cut your cauliflower into pieces and put it into a pot with enough milk to cover it, and simmer it gently til soft (I actually used a Thermomix to heat mine, but the concept is the same).
  • Once the cauli is cooked til soft, drain most of the milk and blend it til it’s a very fine puree. Keep the milk and add it slowly til you get a smooth consistency that’s not too runny.
  • In a hot pan with some olive oil, quickly fry your garlic and onions til soft and golden, then add the squid “rice” and fry over a high sheet for about a minute, until it’s just changing colour.
  • Pour the cauli puree into the rice, and stir through, seasoning with salt and pepper, and a little butter.
  • Finish the dish on the plate with a healthy sprinkling of dill (or other fresh herbs) and a slice of jamon serrano.

Serves: 4

And there you have it. From the shoulders of giants… I served this dish up to some seafood loving friends and it got a great response. I’m not sure I’d go through the pain of cutting squid into rice grain sized pieces on a regular basis, but the textural “crunch” of the squid, and the richness of the cauliflower puree was a great combination that was definitely worth the effort.

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Nahm Thai

Perhaps Perthís closest equivalent to the fine dining Thai restaurants of Sydney. Nahm Thai is one of the few places that tries to take style and atmosphere seriously in it’s quest to elevate the understanding of Thai food away from Pad Thai and Green Chicken Curry. Chef Kevin Pham takes influence from the likes of David Thompson in his recreation of classic Thai dishes.

Firstly I should point out that I like the place. The food is rich and vibrant, there is clear cheffyness to the presentation, and the produce is a world apart from your average Thai place. It’s also nice not to eat Thai food off a plastic tablecloth occasionally, and having 3 different curries that have been made ahead of time and had the <insert meat here> treatment is not something I’ll ever miss either.

Service is a bit of a let down though. The wait staff are dressed in uniforms vaguely reminiscent of bell boys, and usher you to tables in hushed tones, but most give off a clumsy backpacker-waiters-on-holiday feel. Very eager young types struggling in vain for descriptions of dishes and wine, and then sending the food to the wrong table. The menu is barely readable in the dim lighting, and I really wish someone would clean the large overhead lights of dead bugs on a more regular basis.

The food ultimately shines however. Red duck curry with lychees, crispy pork hock with chilli, and crispy egg net with shredded duck are all fantastic, so are the galloping horses (pineapple, duck, scallop) and the sticky rice dessert with mango and sago pudding give me hope that a decent dessert is able to be had in an Asian restaurant that doesn’t involve frying ice cream.

Nahm Thai
223 Bulwer St
Perth
Phone: (08) 9328 7500

Nahm Thai: Sago puddingNahm Thai: sticky rice with bananaNahm Thai: red duck curryNahm thai menuNahm Thai: Crispy pork hockNahm Thai: Salmon with green curryNahm Thai: cuttlefish ?Nahm Thai: Crispy egg nets with shredded duckNahm Thai: galloping horsesNahm Thai: lightingNahm Thai: glasswareNahm Thai

The Prophet

The Prophet is a Victoria Park institution and one of the few notable Lebanese restaurants in the city that do something other than kebabs. Jihad Moussallem has been serving up free bread with his own secret recipe garlic sauce and pickled vegetables for longer than Iíve been around, and one day I’m going to find out how and make millions.

The only thing that changes on the menu are the prices, which are still stubbornly set in the 90s. Their hummus is some of the freshest and most beautifully presented I’ve seen, and what the menu lacks in excitement it makes up for in consistency. The shish tawook (garlic chicken skewer) is a staple and the loubiah beans rich and hearty. Traditional kibbeh (raw minced lamb and bulgur) may be an acquired taste, but the baklava and Lebanese coffee to finish will win anyone over.

Every time I drive past The Prophet I feel a little bad about not frequenting it more often, and then I get a glimpse inside and see the place heaving on a Tuesday night with happy diners making the most of the delicious and cheap food and those three all important letter B-Y-O. There’s always a buzz about the place, to the point where you can never guarantee you’re going to get a seat on any given night of the week.

If you haven’t been yet, go say hi soon.

The Prophet
907 Albany Highway
East Victoria Park, 6101
Tel: (08) 9361 1101

The Prophet menuGarlic dip and pickled veges @ The ProphetThe ProphetSchmear @ The ProphetHommus @ The ProphetFool beans @ The Prophetgrilled fish @ The ProphetShish Kebab @ The Prophet2004 Witchmount ShirazLebanese breadThe ProphetLebanese Coffee pot @The ProphetLebanese Coffee Pour @The ProphetLebanese Coffee @ The Prophet

Tea Smoked Trout

Home Smoked Trout

This is one of those lazy posts that I’ve had sitting in my drafts folder for about 2 months now. I have lots of others too, in various forms of shabbiness that will hopefully one day see the light of day. This however sparked an interest in smoking (insert joke about which end of the fish do you light) in general that has opened up a whole new world.

Since realising how easy it is to do some casual smoking at home with nothing more than a gas burner, a wok, and a steamer of some description, I’ve turned my hand to many different things. Smoking onions, garlic, capsicum, and soon plan to get a slab of beef brisket in there and made some home made pastrami.

Fish though, are a great thing to smoke. It’s been done throughout the years to cook and preserve food in lots of different cultures, and adds a richness of flavour that works so well. Trout I think is one of the best fish to smoke, and these rainbow trout I picked up at Kailis in Leederville are great value too, at around $12 per kilo.

Incidentally, if you’re after smoking wood, I just happen to know a guy (aka Dad) who has a business selling saw dust and wood chips for smoking, and if you were after serious quantities you should get in touch

Without further ado: here’s the technique – possibly also called Hunan Style – Tea Smoked Trout.

Recipe: Tea Smoked Trout

What you Need:

  1. 2 x whole rainbow trout
    1 cup jasmin tea leaves
    1 cup white rice
    1 cup brown sugar
    Salt

How I Made Mine

  1. Dry the fish thoroughly with absorbent paper, and then rub salt all over each of them. Leave the skin on, and the fish intact, as this will provide a barrier for the smoke, and is easy to discard afterwards.

    Find a deep wok, and in the bottom put down a few layers of aluminium foil.

    In a bowl, mix together the tea leaves, rice, and brown sugar, and then place the mixture onto the foil in the centre of the wok.

    Place the wok over heat and wait for the tea to start to smoke.

    If you have steamer inserts for the wok, then put them in and lay the fish on top and cover the top.

    I had a bamboo steamer, so I lined the edge of it with more foil and positioned it on top of my pan, then put the fish inside and closed the lid.

    Smoke the fish for around 15 – 20 mins or until it’s starting to turn a golden brown colour.

    Take the fish out of the smoker and let it rest, then carefully remove the skin and flake the flesh away from the meat, being sure to get rid of the small bones at the edge.

    Smoosh the smoked trout onto bread with some good butter and enjoy.

Oh, and if you’re a vegan, don’t leave comments about how much more beautiful this fish would be if it were swimming free. Do I come to your blog and leave snide comments about tofu and wheatgrass and how plants have feelings ? No, no I do not.

$20 from any asian supermarket = portable cooking bargain.The home smoking setupTwo rainbow troutThe smoking mixHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutThe finished product