Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review: Mojo Rising – Lonsdale St Roasters, Braddon

What is it about a little cafe that draws people in and keeps them coming back, again and again?  Good food?  Good coffee?  A little bit of magic, or mojo, perhaps?  Whatever it is, there is something about Lonsdale St Roasters in Braddon.  This place is ultra-hip, ultra-cool and very, very trendy.
Every weekday morning I walk past Lonsdale St Roasters on my way to work, longingly looking inside as I go by.  I envy all those hip, trendy people inside who can luxuriate over breakfast and a coffee during the week, while the rest of us mere mortals have to be in the office by 9am. 
Every now and again, when I make a special effort to get going early, I manage to squeeze inside Lonsdale St Roasters (and some mornings it really is a squeeze, but the service is quick).  The heady aroma of roasting coffee beans jolts all my senses awake.  And I am glad, for the coffee is good and the coffee is strong! (So strong it will grow hairs on your chest!). It is the best coffee I’ve had in Canberra.
Every so often, I grab breakfast on the run from this tiny cafe.  I love the raisin toast with oh-so-sweet-and-delicious cinnamon butter served in a little tub on the side.  Once in a while, if I am lucky, on a weekend morning I can sit down and eat breakfast and drink coffee and hang out, just like all those trendy, hip things I have envied during the week.  Then it’s the gorgeous waffles with honey butter that make my heart sing.  The music box plays cool, sultry blues like Billie Holiday, melding with the coffee aroma like a couple embraced in a slow dance. The darkened cave-like room hums with energy and I just mellow out and relax, absorbing it all and recharging my tired soul.
Waffles with honey butter - $7
Once in a while, I also venture to Lonsdale St Roasters for lunch.  The energy buzzes as I catch up with good friends and family.   Packed to overflowing as usual with beautiful, trendy people, the little cafe opens its windows and the people all tumble onto the pavement, sitting in the sun on upturned milk crates and tiny stools, among all the bicycles parked out the front.  If only there could be proper chairs and tables and umbrellas!  I guess shabby-chic is part of the quirky charm, but still! 
The panini are a lunch-time specialty, and Lonsdale St Roasters has got them down to a fine art, along with the kitsch artwork on the walls.  Slow roasted meats with chilli and spice, cransky, chorizo and roasted portabello mushrooms are the stars, arriving in beautiful, crusty toasted bread rolls with other tasty fillings like rich, melted cheese and tasty relish.  However, while this food is good, it is very heavy going.  I would love to see some fresher, lighter meals as well.
Panini with roasted portabello mushrooms and melted gorgonzola cheese - $11
Panini with cransky and sauerkraut - $12
I walk by Lonsdale St Roasters on my way home again every evening.  The little cafe is dark and quiet now – it’s well past closing time.  I look through the window as I pass, thinking when I might come in again.  The mojo keeps drawing me back.  And the great coffee.
So tell me, what keeps you coming back to a place again and again?  And do you believe in mojo?

Post Script:
Lonsdale St Roasters now has umbrellas set up outside.  Yay!
Lonsdale St Roasters
7 Lonsdale St
Braddon  ACT
Open Monday – Sat for breakfast and lunch.  Closed on Sundays. L
Lonsdale St Roasters Facebook page

Lonsdale Street Roasters on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Beer Degustation at the Durham Arms, Kingston

Beer degustation?  Sounds interesting, I thought when I was invited to lunch to celebrate my little brother’s birthday recently. 
I was surprised to learn that the Durham Arms pub in Kingston was the venue (fondly known as the “Dirty Durham” and a renowned Canberra weekend watering hole).  It turns out the Durham is a bit sophisticated these days, putting on special events once every few months which are worth keeping an eye out for on their web site.
So how do you match beer and food?  What I learned was that what goes for food and wine also goes for food and beer– subtle flavours go best with light-flavoured beer; strong flavours go best with full-bodied beer. 
For this particular event, beers from the Little Creatures Brewery in Western Australia and White Rabbit Brewery in Victoria were showcased with some simple but lovely food – six courses and six beers in total.  The Durham was pretty well packed to capacity, with around 100 people gathered for the event.  A couple of the brewers from the White Rabbit Brewery were there to talk to the group, introducing the beers as we went through the different courses. 
I absolutely love degustation meals because you can try so many dishes.  The six-course menu was carefully planned to bring the best out of six different beers.  Here’s what we had.

Course 1:  Cheese soufflé with rocket and hazelnuts, paired with Little Creatures Pilsner
The gentle flavour of the cheese soufflé, complete with a rich and creamy cheese sauce, was really set off by the very light-flavoured beer.  The toasted hazelnuts were delicious with this dish.
Course 2:  Moroccan lamb cutlet with pumpkin mash, paired with White Rabbit White Ale
The tasty cumin-spiced lamb was complemented by the almost herby ale. The beer’s tasting notes say there are hints of coriander, juniper berry and orange peel flavours from the brewing process.  I loved the sweet and crunchy, ruby red pomegranate seeds that came with this dish.
Course 3:  Chargrilled prawns marinated in lime and herbs, paired with Little Creatures Pale Ale
The delicious prawns went beautifully with this clean flavoured beer with hints of citrus.
Course 4:  Roast beef with roast potatoes, tomatoes and beans, paired with White Rabbit Dark Ale
The stronger flavours started coming out with the beef.  This traditional dish was gorgeous paired with the full-bodied ale.
Course 5:  Mango tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut, paired with Little Creatures Pipsqueak Cider
The apple cider had just the right balance between sweet and dry – a real palate cleanser.  The crisp, clean flavour of the cider went beautifully with the sweet fruity dessert and rich ice cream.  This one was my favourite.
Course 6:  Cheese platter paired with Little Creatures Rogers Ale
The beer was interesting – I could really taste coffee.  The tasting notes say roasted hazelnuts, toffee and caramel malt.  The very strong flavour went well with the cheese platter, although not my favourite.

Top left: Key ingredients for beer making - four types of barley and some malt pellets (the green ones in the middle, which looked and smelled a bit like rabbit food!)
Top right: Beers (left to right) Little Creatures Pilsner, White Rabbit White Ale, Little Creatures Pale Ale
Bottom right: Beers (left to right): White Rabbit Dark Ale, Little Creatures Pipsqueak Cider, Little Creatures Rogers Ale

I was really impressed with the Durham kitchen.  They were very accommodating to Mr D., who has serious fish and nut allergies, making him his own special versions of the dishes so he could it enjoy the lunch as much as everyone else.  We made sure we gave them plenty of notice about it when we booked and they were great.

We’ll definitely look out for future Durham food events as a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Of course, the nice thing about going out for a huge boozy lunch on a Sunday is being able to go home to snooze on the couch for the rest of the afternoon, which is exactly what I did. J

So tell me, what’s your favourite beer and food combination?

The Durham Arms
Green Square, Kingston  ACT
The advertised cost of the degustation lunch event was $59 per person.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Review: Mutiny, Fish and Chips - The Fish Shack, Civic

Ever wanted to rock the boat, shake the tree, rattle the cage, stick it to 'the man'?  I am meek and mild at the best of times, but every now and again I like to stir the pot a bit and cause just a little bit of havoc, especially when food is at stake.  One day I even managed to cause a small mutiny in the office over fish and chips. You see, my boss wanted to have a bit of a team lunch  - a picnic in the park eating fish and chips.  A lovely idea, to be sure.  Only the plan was to get the food from a greasy old takeaway joint down the road - not so lovely after all - there were even threats of chiko rolls and deep fried Mars bars!  So I decided to take matters into my own hands and checked all those fabulous food blogs for a well-rated alternative.  And so I came across the Fish Shack.

The Fish Shack is a bright orange little shack in the middle of Civic.  Open for a few months now, it does a roaring trade and fresh take on the old favourites - beer battered fish, salt and pepper squid, tempura prawns, Thai fish cakes and much more (view the menu).  And they are pretty damn good - the fish is very fresh, the batter is light and crunchy and the chips are lovely and crisp.  At lunch time there can be a bit of a wait, so a hot tip is to ring your order in ahead of time so it's ready to collect when you arrive.

Tempura prawns and chips - $13.50

Salt and pepper squid and chips - $12.50

Premium beer battered classic fish and chips - medium size - $9.50

Back to the mutiny... I managed to convince all my work colleagues that we could do much, much better than the greasy old takeaway joint.  What could the boss do when the power of the people was against him?  All ended well, of course, and we had a beautiful hour in the sunshine eating our yummy Fish Shack food.  The boss still had the greasy old takeaway joint food, though. J

So tell me, where's your favourite fish and chips joint?  And what little revolutions have you started?

The Fish Shack
Petrie Plaza (off Bunda St)
Civic  ACT
ph. 6248 5885
Open for lunch Mon - Sat, dinner Tues - Fri

Fish Shack on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 October 2011

Secrets of Some Little Tarts

On a trip to Sydney one weekend not too long ago, we (being Mr D. and I and our friend the lovely Ms Y.) happened by chance to spy the Bourke St Bakery.  We were driving through Surry Hills on a Sunday afternoon on our way home to Canberra.  On spying the little shop, Ms Y. and I cried out excitedly in unison, “Pull over, pull over!” to Mr D. who was the one driving, “It’s the Bourke St Bakery – it’s famous!”.
True to its reputation, there was the line of customers reaching out the door and along the footpath, waiting patiently for the delicious fare.  We took our place in the queue, trying to peak inside the windows of the tiny shop to see what was on offer that day.  After around 15 minutes, Ms Y. and I emerged triumphant, with some wonderful fresh pastries in hand – a ginger crème brule tart, a rhubarb and custard danish, and a pain au chocolat (yum!).   We ate them happily in the car on the drive home, very pleased with ourselves at such a lucky find, which started a discussion about the delights of the Bourke St Bakery cookbook.
I know the Bourke St Bakery guys put this cookbook out a few years ago, but my first-time experience of the bakery that day brought home how nice it might be to make some of the delectable treats at home.  Confirmation from Ms Y. that the cookbook was indeed full of fabulous recipes firmed up my desire.  Fortunately, I had a birthday coming up soon and my lovely father was good enough to give me a copy as a special gift.
So, here the story of the little tarts begins.  I was careful about not being too ambitious too quickly (crème brule tarts, danishes and chocolate croissants are just a little beyond me at the moment, but I promise to give them a go), so I figured some sweet short-crust pastry tart cases filled with three of the simple but delicious-looking suggestions from the Bourke St Bakery cookbook were a good start.
The recipe for sweet short-crust pastry was reasonably straight forward, but also quite time consuming – it is important to rest the pastry in the fridge for quite a while on several occasions throughout the process (so it’s best to allow a whole quiet afternoon of baking in peace to do this).  I decided to see how baking the tart cases in a 12-hole regular muffin tin would go.  While not quite as pretty a result as using proper tart tins (the fluted ones with the removable bases), the tart cases turned out to be quite a good size for dainty little desserts.  The tart cases had a lovely biscuit texture (but not too crumbly) and their sweet buttery flavour was very pleasing.  Another bonus was that they froze quite well in an airtight container, so they could be whipped out at reasonably short notice for an impressive dessert after all the hard work had been done in advance (or they can be frozen at the point where they are ready for baking).
The three fillings I chose were ricotta and strawberries, lemon curd and chocolate ganache.  All three were lovely, but read on to see which one stole the show...
The ricotta and strawberry tarts were definitely the beauty queens, with their crowning glory of fresh strawberry pieces.  The ricotta filling was lovely, being rich and creamy with a touch of vanilla. And the fresh strawberries cut through the richness well.  However, the whole ensemble was just a tad too rich for my taste and next time I would use low-fat ricotta instead of the full-fat type.

The lemon curd tarts were the elegant dames of the show, with the pale yellow curd providing a lusciously refreshing filling.  The silky smooth texture of the lemon curd paired beautifully with the biscuitiness of the tart case.
The chocolate ganache tarts, however, were the real stars of the show.  Yes, they may have been the little plain janes of the three contestants (the just didn't want to photograph well...sorry about the slightly fuzzy picture), but their taste was out of this world.  The cream chocolate filling in its tart case formed a little pot of squidgy chocolate heaven, just perfect for dunking fresh strawberries into.  Plus the chocolate ganache was such a cinch to make.  I used really good quality milk chocolate bits (not dark ones) from Koko Black and melted them with a little hot cream and voila!  The resulting molten chocolate was so good that I ate around half of it straight from the saucepan, licking the wooden spoon clean. J

So tell me, when it comes to desserts, do you like to go all out for the magnificent beauty queens or are the simple little plain ones your favourites?

Now for the recipes....

Sweet short-crust pastry tart cases
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Makes 12 small cases

200 g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
10 ml (1/2 tbs) vinegar
50g caster sugar
80 ml water (1/3 cup), chilled
330 g plain flour, chilled
Pinch of salt

1.   Remove the butter from the fridge about 20 minutes before starting.  Place the flour into the fridge to chill at the same time.
2.   Combine the vinegar, sugar and cold water in a bowl and stir well until the sugar is fully dissolved.
3.   Add the flour, salt and butter to the bowl of a food processer and pulse for 3 - 4 short bursts to partially combine (you should still be able to see little pieces of butter through the mixture).
4.   Turn out flour mixture onto a clean work surface and gather together.  Sprinkle over part of the sugar mixture and smear it over the flour mixture with the palm of your hand.  Repeat two or three times.  If the dough still doesn’t come together, keep sprinkling with a little more cold water and smearing again until the dough just comes together.  You should still be able to see flecks of butter at this stage.
5.   Shape the dough into a disc and refrigerate for at least two hours.
6.   Remove the disc from the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to roll it.
7.   Sprinkle a little flour onto a clean work surface and rub some over a rolling pin, but use sparingly.
8.   Gently roll the disc out until it is around 3mm thick.  Using the rolling pin, gently transfer the dough onto a very lightly floured baking tray, then cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.
9.   Brush a 12-hole regular muffin tin with a little melted butter or canola oil.
10. Lay the pastry out onto the clean work surface again.  Cut the pastry into little rounds using a round cutter of 10cm diameter. The offcuts can be rerolled and you should be able to get 12 rounds in total.
11. Place a pastry round over the centre of each muffin hole, then use your fingers to press the pastry gently but firmly into and around the hole.  Place the muffin tin in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
12. Line each tart case with foil, gently pushing the foil all the way into bottom of the case, and fill with uncooked rice ready for blind baking.
13. Bake the tart cases for around 20-25 minutes until they are golden all over (particularly in the centre).
14. After a couple of minutes out of the oven, gently remove the tart cases from the tin and cool on a wire rack ready for filling.

Ricotta and strawberry filling
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Fills 12 small cases

500 g low-fat ricotta cheese, liquid drained
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, soaked in hot water, split lengthways
500 g strawberries, hulled and quartered

1.   Put the ricotta and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processer along with the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod.  Process until smooth and well combined.
2.   Spoon the ricotta mixture into the tart cases, top with the strawberry segments and serve immediately.

Lemon curd filling
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Fills 12 small cases

5 eggs
100g caster sugar
125 ml (1/2 cup) lemon juice
125 ml (1/2 cup) pouring cream (35% fat)

1.   Put the eggs, sugar and lemon juice in a heatproof bowl and whisk together until the sugar dissolves.
2.   Pour in the cream and mix well to combine.
3.   Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) and use a whisk to stir continuously until the mixture is smooth and thick (about 10 minutes).
4.   Remove from the heat and stir for another minute or so.
5.   If there are small white bits in the mixture (as happened to me because the bowl was a little too hot and the egg cooked a little too much), don’t panick!  Pass the mixture through a metal sieve while still hot for a really fine, silky texture.
6.   Place the mixture in a clean cold bowl, cover with plastic wrap so that it touches the surface of the mixture (this stops a skin forming) and refrigerate overnight.
7.   Spoon the lemon curd into the tart cases and serve.

Chocolate ganache filling
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Fills 12 small cases

400 g good quality milk chocolate buttons
250 ml (1 cup) pouring cream (35% fat)

1.   Put the chocolate in a heat proof bowl.
2.   Put the cream in a saucepan over high heat and bring to boil as quickly as you can (make sure it doesn’t evaporate too much).
3.   Pour the hot cream straight over the chocolate and stir gently until the chocolate has all melted, then pour the melted chocolate mixture into a jug. 
4.   Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart cases, then place tarts in an airtight container and stand at room temperature overnight to set.
5.   Serve tarts with fresh strawberries on the side for dunking.