Where we went and where we didn’t Gogh

Winter is back, and although I keep telling myself that it’s not as bad as last year, the biting cold that greets me with hostility every morning, leaves me more often than not searching for comfort food to bring me some warmth during Melbourne’s coldest months.

Melbourne however, also offers many other experiences to bring one out of the wintry chill, including the NGV. This winter, the Van Gogh and the Seasons exhibition has come to the gallery and my friends and I were so excited to see it. So, on a Friday afternoon, we made our way from Flinders Street Station, over the Yarra, to the gallery. Naturally, Van Gogh attracts a crowd, but we didn’t expect it to be so packed. We tossed up waiting in a line for 3 hours, and decided against it, opting to find a “cool” bar and just chat.

Despite the cold, we decided on Rooftop, a (surprise, surprise) rooftop bar on Swanston St on top of Curtin House. Having been here before, we were keen for some good vibes, fresh air, reasonably priced drinks and the option of food. But alas, fate would be against us again. Standing in the lift, on the way up to the top floor, we were dismayed and slightly amused, to discover that the bar was closed until August. Defeated, we decided to head back to Flinders Street Station and head to Arbory, a riverside bar and restaurant which also borders the train station.

A classic, Melbourne style bar/restaurant, Arbory is one of the bars to be in at the moment, and its convenient and pretty location make it quite an enticing little hide. We headed down the steps by the bridge to the riverside, and, after a few metres entered Arbory. Popular for both it’s food and drinks, the long stretch of deck was busy, but not full (granted that it was only 2 in the afternoon). Gas heaters kept us warm as we mulled over the menu, trying to make a decision on what food and drinks to order.

My friend settled on a Pink Gin Spritz, spritzed up with rosemary, while I went for a hot Spiced Apple Cider. I was tossing up between that and a hot chocolate cocktail, but $9 vs. $15 had me sold. Our other friend opted to go drinkless and instead settled  for a chocolate/coffee cake, which looked, and tasted, quite delicious. To accompany our drinks, we decided on the classic hot chips. Crinkle cut, thick and perfectly crispy, the humble potato did not disappoint, and, although more expensive than the chips from a local fish and chips shop, they were quite tasty and worth the splurge. I’ve also been told that the mushroom and haloumi burger is quite good, although the menu is seasonal which is both a plus and a minus, only because favourites can’t be enjoyed year round!

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Overlooking the Yarra River with the view of Southbank through wintry trees created a lovely backdrop for a splendid afternoon spent chatting, eating and drinking. I wouldn’t go to Arbory for a cheap drink, but if you want a nice drink, and some good food in an iconic Melbourne location, look no further. A live DJ also spins vinyl in the background, so the music, although quite typical of many Melbourne bars, is quite good.

Whilst our day began with a few disappointments, we ended up having a lovely afternoon. And that’s what’s so good about living in city like Melbourne; there’s so much to do and experience. Regardless, wherever you are in the world, with good food and good company, good times are also chucked in, free of charge.

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looking uber stylish while enjoying her cocktail
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Making des petites gougères!

Ok so if I’m craving cheese, I’d usually go all out and enjoy a cheese board, but I thought I’d try out these cute choux pastry, cheese balls commonly made with Gruyère, Emmantel or Comté and known by the French as Gougères. The dish is said to have originated in Burgundy in the 17th century, and gained its popularity all around France in the 19th century.

The French eat these savoury delights as aperitifs, or in Burgundy especially, when tasting wines (apparently the “terroir” of Burgundy wines matches quite well with gougères).

I chose to try my luck at making these nibbles, because they looked relatively simple, granted I had heard about how difficult choux pastry could be. But I like to be adventurous in the kitchen, and thus took up the challenge.

Making the choux pastry was not as hard as I expected. However, having to ensure each egg was mixed into the dough before adding the next egg, did kill my arm just a bit. Nevertheless, I powered on and after piping out the balls and pulling the golden balls out of the oven, I was quite pleased, and was even more proud when I tasted them!

In terms of presentation, I simply placed about 40 balls into a large container/dish and left my babies for everyone to enjoy. I didn’t have too many left by the end of the day and was told that I did pretty well with the choux pastry, so overall, I was pretty happy with how my gougères turned out and will 100% be making these again!

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Ingredients and recipe can be found here (I did use comté instead of gruyere):

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/alain-ducasses-gougeres

Pizza alla Margherita

Struggling uni students are often led to the enthrals of “pizza” chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut. But these thick-crusted, Americanized concoctions are nowhere near as satisfying and deliciously wonderful as the real deal. I’m talking real Italian pizza hailing from its birthplace in Naples, Italy, and more specifically, the all-time favourite, Pizza Margherita. Although pizza has become in some ways a national identifier for Italy as a whole, regional pride still reigns on in Italia, and Neapolitans are very proud to say that pizza is their dish. The best pizzerias in Italy are found in Naples, but pizza, especially Margherita, has become so widespread, varied and loved around the world.

Pizzas were originally sold in Naples without toppings, and, because of their relatively cheap prices, were sold to peasants. After the tomato was finally accepted as edible in Italy, and endorsed in 1889 by Queen Margherita (legendary), the pizza alla Margherita became what we know it to be today and can be enjoyed all over the world, especially in the many Neapolitan pizzerias.

The dish has taken on such a different face around the world, with thicker crusts, different cheeses, different herbs and all sort of variations. However, in its home of Naples, one is able to find the simple thin crust, topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil (reminiscent of the Italian flag!). What’s even better is that the price is a lot cheaper than the standard $20 gourmet pizza you find in Melbourne!!

While Pizza has become like a national dish in Italy, it’s important to recognise its regional roots in Naples and remember that Italy’s cuisine is a celebration of its regional diversity.

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Is Brunswick St really the groovy foodie haven vegans claim it to be?

Any Melburnian knows that the Brunswick/Fitzroy area is the place to live and breathe in if you’re just too trendily hip for society. Brunswick St is unique in its eclectic mix of dining options, craft shops, quirky shops and its inhabitants who are too hipster for life

It was quite interesting to walk down the “less cool” side of Brunswick St (south of Johnston St). There was still a wide variety of cuisine available: Italian, Spanish, Mexican, a confused halal Italian pizzeria, African, a French bistro and an assortment of cafes. High-brow diners beware, there is no haute cuisine in sight, which is good for me, because most things were relatively inexpensive! Clearly, the people who frequent Brunswick St are used to inexpensive, good quality, food (with vegan options of course).

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Taking in all the smells of coffee, hearty food, old clothes, the questionable nose-wrinkling scents, and seeing all the not quite perfect fixtures in restaurants and shops gave the street a natural yet trendy vibe. The variety of people (who were mostly so nice!) and shopfronts made the street welcoming and exciting simultaneously. Despite not completely identifying culturally with the street, I felt included and also tempted to buy and taste more than my bank balance allowed!

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I can now see how migrant cuisine has impacted the street and how varied the foodscape is. We happened across a host of restaurants trying to take a cool/innovative slant on a cuisine, like Smith and Daughters, with a clearly non-Spanish name, yet serving an entirely Spanish/Latin American menu, and those searching for an “authentic essence in a cuisine [which] doesn’t exist”1 because of the constant evolution of cuisine!


1Heldke, L., 2003. Exotic appetites. New York and London: Routledge.

Esqueixada

Sometimes, I just crave something salty. Luckily for me, one of Catalonia’s most well-known traditional dishes, Esqueixada, has that fresh, salty, oniony and tomatoey flavour that makes me oh so happy.

Esqueixada, meaning “torn” or “shredded”, is one of Catalonia’s favourite warm weather dishes, a homely dish enjoyed in many waterfront restaurants in the Spanish region. The salad dish is made up of yummy shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions, vinegar, salt and sometimes bell peppers and olives. Esqueixada’s simplicity is so different from the molecularised foods emerging from Catalonia’s “boom gastronómico” but that’s where its beauty lies.

The salad makes use of the Catalan staple salt cod, an homage to its Mediterranean coastline and love of fish, as well as tomatoes, brought from the New World by Spain’s own Columbus. The use of such key ingredients encapsulates the way in which Catalan cuisine weaves together its rich culture and history and how it’s an “inheritance from and tribute to all the civilizations that have ruled Europe since Imperial Roman times”.1

I’ve never seen this dish plated up in Melbourne and would definitely not classify it as haute cuisine. Outside of Catalonia and even Spain, the only difference with the dish concerns the availability of ingredients. Salt cod is not too popular in most parts of the world, and thus when making the dish, the cod would have to be cured and salted at home. I did come across some Ferran Adrii inspired versions of the dish however, demonstrating how the traditional, home-style cooking of the region is being modernized.

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Prior to studying Catalan cuisine, I wouldn’t have even considered the significance behind such a simple salad!


 1L’any del menjar, cuina i gastronomia, p. 20.

Images:

http://www.spain-recipes.com/images/xesqueixada-debacalao.jpg.pagespeed.ic.CTr6DKf6u6.jpg

http://www.cuinantentrevinyes.cat/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/timbal-dexqueixada.jpg