Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Day at elBulli - Ferran Adria

Image by Maribel Ruiz de Erenchun, from 'A Day at elBulli'.
Spherical-1 green olives

I've become rather slack with my blog postings..sorry. Will endeavour to Try Harder in future.

I received a copy of Ferran Adria's new book 'A Day at elBulli' in the mail the other day, and what a tome it is. Six hundred pages of gastronomic eye candy by the master himself, including recipes that you'll never try (sourcing dehydrated lemon verbena powder and freeze-dried passion fruit at Coles could pose a problem), the current el Bulli menu and lots and lots of gorgeous photographs.

For the uninitiated, el Bulli is a non-descript little restaurant situated on a remote part of the north-east coast of Spain that has been voted the best restaurant in the world four times in succession. Its maestro, Ferran Adria, has been voted best chef in the world. Ferran invented foam, and his culinary work lies somewhere between Willy Wonka and Alice in Wonderland when she bit into the magic mushroom. Nothing is what it seems at el Bulli (pronounced, apparently, 'el Bui'), with olives not just tasting like olives but the essence of olives and dishes resembling landscapes and artworks. I won't go into the statistics as I'm sick of reading about them, suffice to say he gets an awful lot of reservation queries and accepts very few. Yes, it's very very exclusive. And hence the reason for the book. Despite el Bulli being every die-hard foodie's Israel, at least for the next few years, most of us will (a) never get there or (b) never get a reservation. It is a day-in-the-life of one of the most extraordinary restaurants the world has ever seen.

Image by Maribel Ruiz de Erenchun, from 'A Day at elBulli'.
Earthy (incl Summer truffle, rice stock jelly, liquorice infusion, peanut oil marshmallow, freeze-dried cold white miso foam & beetroot shoot juice)

Ferran is part scientist, part chef and part artisan. A sample of his current 30 course menu goes something like this:
  • Spherical green olives
  • Pine nut marshmallow
  • Carrot foam with hazelnut foam air and Cordoba spices
  • Monk fish liver fondue with white sesame-flavoured kumquat
  • Chocolate air with crispy raspberry sorbet and eucalyptus water ice
Madness, I tell you. But a madness I would give my spleen to try.

My Q&A with Ferran to follow in the next few weeks.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Review: Maretti Caffe Cucina

I have wanted to get to Maretti for months and months, ever since I interviewed the owner and learnt he wakes before the crows every morning to make his own desserts and pasta. Now that's a dedication I wanted to taste.

We arrived at the restaurant amid the usual Continental kerfuffle, eventually got weeded out from the departing crowd and shown to our seats. It was warm and loud, with a pleasant contemporary design fit-out, well-spaced tables and an all-Italian waitstaff. While we waited for our meals, we did a little Botox-watching among the well-heeled crowd. The only measure of age of some of the grand dames was their wizened husbands.

After having watched Matteo make some of his pasta - he must get through hundreds of eggs per week - I was desperate to try it. Sadly - and surprisingly - it was not offered as a primi piatti for dinner. No matter, we shared. Holy heck, if I'm ever offered a last meal I think this might be it. The spaghetti was al dente and - unlike
Viva - held its shape beautifully. Generous chunks of lobster and shredded crab were tossed through it and enhanced by a fantastically light tomato sauce. It's so rare these days to find a light pasta dish that is refreshing and doesn't leave you wishing you'd worn your elasticated pants. Between you and me, I so wish I hadn't shared.

For main, we went with a special of chargrilled squid and a panzanella salad. The squid was attractively served whole with sections of sundried tomatoes. It had the trademark smokey flavours throughout and was only slightly rubbery. The panzanella salad of sundried tomatoes, capers, capsicum, olives, bread and oil was a perfect foil, other than there being a slight sundried tomato overkill. The bread had been cut into squares and soaked in olive oil, giving the dish a little more depth than you would usually get with a salad. Again, both dishes were light and refreshing, and didn't leave us groaning.

However, they did leave us keen for the desserts, which seem to be practically all made with mountains of cream. By the time we got to the dessert case the chocolate mousse, pannacotta, creme brulee and nougat mousse had all been demolished and we were left with caramel mousse. No matter, it was a sensation of caramel folded into mountains of - you guessed it - cream and topped with crunchy toffee pieces. We offset this gluttony with a selection of home-made pastries that were excellent.

Well worth the trek to the Mosman Park burbs.

What we shared: spaghetti ai crostaci; chargrilled squid; panzanella salad; caramel mousse; selection of amaretti & pastries.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Loose Produce, Como

Today I felt like I'd stepped back in time when I stumbled into a little grocer's shop in Como called Loose Produce that I'd never seen before. Everything from flour to coffee beans to spices were neatly labelled in cannisters and, through a viewing window, a young girl poured flour into hessian sacks. Except for the eye-watering prices of some of the items ($7.50 for a litre of OJ), it was all very Little House on the Prairie.

The proprieters are clearly passionate about high-quality, organic produce, with most items being gluten and/or wheat-free. There are numerous classes conducted in-store (gluten-free cooking; how to use your Thermomix; skincare and reflexology, amongst others). There's even a kids' cooking class in the school holidays. I don't know if I'll ever be a regular, but I know where to go if I ever get the urge for real drinking chocolate. And that reflexology looks damn tempting.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Review: Viva

I never wanted to go to Viva. I wanted to go to Maretti Caffe Cucina, where we were originally booked, but chef/owner Matteo closed the restaurant for the long weekend because his wife had just had a baby. So, in search of a replacement that would serve us trad Italian home-made cuisine, we found ourselves at Viva in Applecross. Perhaps this, then, was what made me so grouchy.

But first, the good bits. The service was right on the money. Despite the place heaving with revellers and the floor looking slightly understaffed, we never wanted for anything. The staff knew their menu, and that always makes me smile. The largely Italian crowd too was convivial, jovial, pick a happy word. Long tables of rollicking celebrations abounded with family, friends and kids all running around the place. It was a lovely vibe. The decor was that of a rustic Italian trattoria, with the warm glowing coals of an open pizza oven welcoming guests at the front door. My husband's osso bucco with risotto was a hearty country dish of voluminous proportions; my MIL's stuffed mushroom was also a winner. The chilli mussels we all shared as a starter were great, with not a New Zealand green lip in sight.

Which leads me to my meal. I'd had my heart set on the goat, but apparently so had everyone else that night and hence all other hearts were sated but mine. A quick scramble over the menu ensued and I opted for the calabrese with home-made fettucine. I say quick because the kitchen, on a busy Saturday night, makes it a policy to close by 9pm. I also say quick because by the time we were sat and ready to order, it was 8:50pm. What would the motherland say? Our meals were fast-tracked to warp speed, the kitchen closed and chef Joseph Parlapiano was free to saunter among his patrons looking for accolade. Joseph prides himself on serving home-made pasta, and the boast is plastered all over the restaurant. I wanted to call him over and talk about home-made fettucine. Because the enormous pile of mush in front of me didn't seem to fit the boast. There was no bite to the pasta, no al dente feel to it, no texture. I wanted my Re Store pasta, and this wasn't it. Granted, perhaps it was something I was missing in the process, such as the pasta was rolled extra-thin, but overcooked mush is overcooked mush.

Secondly, did I mention the size? It was, literally, around a kilo's worth. I weighed the leftovers when I got home out of sheer morbid curiousity and it was over 600gm. Ridiculous. What's the point of a
Stop Food Waste Campaign if this kind of excess is going on in the hospitality industry? What about pasta being a traditional primi piatti? Sure, I could take it home but, except for the calabrese salami, it was tasteless and it would be piffed.

Viva is a great place for a knees-up with loved ones, or for those who equate massive servings with good value-for-money. Just don't get there too late, or order the fettucine.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Your Restaurants: September Profiles

Okay, blatant plug coming up.

As some of you may or may not know, among other things I'm a food journo for ninemsn's Your Restaurants. Here's some quick links to my profiles & pics for September..

Lamont's Cottesloe