Archive for December, 2007

Melbourne’s hottest hot spot

Dainty

OK, first, let’s start with the headline news. I’ve made the move from Sydney to Melbourne. It’s a long story, but the short of it is that I’ve joined the crew at Lonely Planet and have flown south. So Gosstronomy is travelling with me and expanding to Melbourne as well. At the same time, I’m looking for someone to take over all of my dining dates in Sydney. Anyone interesting in a side career of prolific eating and drinking?

As for Melbourne, as any foodie worth their weight in sea salt knows, it’s a food-lover’s smorgasbord. And I’ve been happily wandering its streets, ogling at the insurmountable eating options. It’s so invigorating having a whole new city to digest.

Which brings us to Dainty, and to the fact that I’m an incorrigible spice snob. Everywhere I go, I meet people who curl up like manhandled caterpillars at the slightest whiff of chilli. Wimps, I think, while keeping it to myself so that I don’t sound like a complete dickhead. Instead, I just look annoyingly smug.

I was just meandering around the Melbourne CBD, looking for takeaway near my hotel, when I stumbled across Dainty Sichuan Food at the end a dodgy-looking Chinatown alley. Sichuan is music to the ears of a spice maven like me. Plus the dining room was full of Chinese diners, so my graze-dar gave the thumbs up and I popped in for a feed.

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The waiter spoke broken English, so it took pointing and gesturing to work out what I wanted… or rather didn’t want. No, not the cold pork. No, not that massive chicken platter. No, not the liver and pig’s ear. A little interrogation later, I settled on the shredded hot and spicy beef, but the waiter didn’t seem keen on me having that either. “Spicy,” he warned and pointed to the three-chilli rating on the menu. Upon which I laughed and told him that I liked spicy food. He then scrawled the order like he was signing a legal waiver.

The dish soon arrived, liberally sprinkled with chilli skin and flakes and stir-fried with onion, garlic, bean sprouts, green onion and strips of julienned beef. The flavour was big, bold and oily joyful. And after two minutes, I had to take a moment. Another minute and I was scoffing black tea, despite knowing it wouldn’t help. Worse still, the food was too good not to keep eating. A few more minutes and I urgently requested water. And I kept going. Further embattled, I went to the fridge and bought a bottle of sweet milk tea, just to keep the heat at bay. Halfway through, I raised the white flag.

Note to self: when a Sichuan restaurant has chillis hanging from the ceiling as decoration, do NOT order the menu equivalent of a three-alarm fire. It’s been ages since I had food this a’blazing, but I do love the fact that these guys don’t pull any punches for weak Westerners like me. In fact, I later discovered that these punches were perfectly described in a great write-up by The Age’s Matt Preston. “Dainty is ain’t,” he writes, adding that the food “should come with the type of warning you’d give a friend about to step into the ring with Mike Tyson.” If only I’d known.

For my love of spice, I served a night’s penance of grueling heartburn. Even so I’ll be back, but next time I’ll bring my humility and with it some daintier Dainty aspirations.

Dainty Sichuan Food, 26 Corrs Ln (btw Lonsdale and Little Bourke sts), Melbourne, (03) 9663 8861

Dainty Sichuan on Urbanspoon

Holiday productivity? Ho, ho, ho

There’s been way too much silly season… well, sillyness, so I’m not yet ready to share news about another great meal until I get all of the eggnog (well, in reality it’s copious amounts of wine and beer) out of my system and down to non-emergency levels. In the meantime, I’ll share some glimpses into food technology. Now that should sober me – and you – up for a least a few minutes.

The first is the launch of the Twitter cookbook, which shows how you can turn a two-page food-as-fashion book spread with glamorous, glossy photos into a meager unadorned scrawl that’s 160 characters or less. If you haven’t used Twitter yet, it’s a nifty way to broadcast messages to your friends or the world at large, whether via email or, even better, free text messages. Don’t know how they do it for free, but I’m not going to ask in case they change their minds. In any case, the Twitter cookbooks is a quick, dirty and impressively effeicient way to get a full recipe onto your mobile phone, so people don’t see you peering through that heavy, dog-eared cookbook in the supermarket aisle. Instead, they’ll think you’re reading raunchy text messages.

yourRestaurants mobileIn just a handful of weeks, there are already some 1400 people keeping tabs on the daily influx of mini-me recipes. Here’s an example of an apple pie recipe submitted just in time for American Thanksgiving. Once you get used to the shorthand, it’s fairly simple (usually):

Pumpkin Pie: cook 5m 2c pumpkin/c brn sugar/2T pie spice/.5t salt; +2/3c cream&milk. Put in running blender +4eggs. 25m@400F in baked crust.

The other is the latest example of how mobile phones are trying to revolutionise how we collect recipes and order food. Mobio is a US-based company that’s created a number of handy phone applications, including a recipe book that instantly creates a shopping list that can be easily compiled from multiple recipes. Heck, they even have an application that lets you look for the cheapest petrol (‘gas’), which is handy if you have to fill up on the way home from Woolies.

Finally, while Mobio does have a restaurant finder, it’s nothing compared to the yourRestaurants dining guide, which I helped set up for HWW (now part of Ninemsn) a couple of years back. I have no vested interest in it these days, but it still works so amazing well, I use it everywhere I travel throughout Australia. It has mammoth listings in every capital city and is getting pretty decent at covering the regional ones as well. The website works great, but nothing is handier than having it on your phone, so if you have a 3G-enabled handset, I really recommend it. It’s also now part of the yourTime package, which gives you movies, music gigs, a TV guide and a bars guide.

Well, that’s enough geek speak for one day. It’s still the holidays and I think I just heard the alarm for beer o’clock.

The Rottnest food scene

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For a place that sounds like old pears that’ve gone furry in the fridge and actually named after the mistaken identity of cuddly quokka as rats, Rottnest Island is disproportionately beautiful. There are no cars here (excepting the public shuttle), just bikes, so you just roll over the hills from one empty beach cove to the next. The sand is silky smooth and the water is so amazingly clear, you just hope the neighbourhood sharks don’t appreciate it as much as you do.

Rottnest is also a great place to go if you’re a big foodie like me. There’s a dreary Dome café chain, an overpriced Tea Rooms, a fish and chippery that needs to change its oil, a pub that puts the kitchen sink on its pizzas, Subway and Red Rooster. And you know you’re in a culinary wasteland when Red Rooster seems like the best option. So when, like me, you’ve found that you’ve pigged out on too many nice restaurants, Rottnest is the prefect place to force you to eat simple again and cook for yourself.

What is great at Rottnest is the General Store, which has heaps of good fruit and veg – especially for an island – a doable selection of meat and plenty of other foodstuffs to stock up for a gourmet meal prepared in your holiday bungalow. And across the road is easily the best eatery on the island, the gourmet deli, where we picked up fresh chicken sandwiches and had a small but appealing selection of salads, café fare and gourmet drygoods. Amazingly for a place that is surrounded by water, boaters, mad-keen fishermen and an incredibly robust selection of ocean inhabitants, Rottnest doesn’t offer a single place to buy fresh seafood. So if you’re looking for a taste of the local bounty, expect to catch it yourself. (Although if we did stick around an extra day, the deli did say it could probably get us some salmon – flown in from Tasmania, of course.)

In any case, we hit the General Store and stocked up on porterhouse steaks, spuds and vegies for the sides, breakfast essentials for making eggs, French toast, bacon, etc, and a few other essentials. Then we gingerly placed our heavy shopping bag onto the dodgy spring-loaded holder above my bike’s rear wheel, and Matrix-like moves were performed tp get onto the bike without tipping and spilling the contents in back.

If there’s anything to be said of wildlife, it’s that they also have an appreciation of home-cooked meals. A local quokka came into the front courtyard of our rented villa and demonstrated a very civilised knack for neatly scoffing crackers with two hands. He was very cute and social, and initially invited, but he overstayed his welcome, so we placed his next cracker outside the front gate and unceremoniously slammed it behind him. Yes, we can be very rude hosts. We also had to learn how to steadfastly guard our sausages on the barbie, because the moment we even thought about looking away, a seagull would swoop down and steal one. As such, we have moved Bin Lanen down to public enemy number four, and placed, in order, seagulls, mozzies and ever-harassing WA summer flies ahead of him.

Wildlife harassment aside, Rottnest Island was three days of bliss, and a welcome respite from worrying about where to find the next great meal, and pointing to bloated Buddha bellies from overzealously ordering a bit too much from the menu. Yes, I can feel the outpouring of pity.

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