Sunday, December 12, 2010

Batavia Corner

One of the things I have come to love as part of falling in love with my now wife, M, is the food of Indonesia where she was born. This was also one of the highlights for me when I visited her folks in Jakarta over a year ago - where I was introduced to some darn tasty stuff that I hadn't previously been exposed to. Indonesian food, like so many other great cuisines, is regional - and with that comes a myriad of interpretations of dishes that each region is fiercely proud of and becomes known for.

One particular dish I fell in love with in Jakarta was a beef soup in a light coconut broth - Soto Daging Betawi. And it was with much delight when M and I stumbled upon one of our now much frequented cheap eats in Perth - Batavia Corner in East Victoria Park. This humble little eatery whips up some of the best sotos (or soups which are commonly eaten with rice in Indonesia) in Perth - with all their soup bases made from scratch (which makes a world of difference in this case). Melt in your mouth beef and tendon pieces in a perfectly seasoned broth with the celery, tomatoes and just a small amount of coconut milk (fresh - not packaged I might add) - I would go so far as to say the version here is actually superior to the one I tasted in Jakarta.

Batavia Corner also does a lovely Nasi Kuning Komplit, which is tumeric scented coconut rice served with sides of fried chicken (of course), urap urap (a delicious coconut vegetable side), crispy crumbed prawns and a very addictive side called kremes (which I can only described as tasting the best crispy bits of KFC). The pempek (fried fish cake in a tangy sauce) here is passable - and is one thing that Jakarta is much more competent at - but serves to satisfy any cravings you may have of this textural dish.

All in all - Batavia is a great spot to visit to sample Indonesian fare - and until I next visit M's hometown to meet her family (and of course to eat myself silly), it is a spot we'll come back to to satisfy our cravings.

Batavia Corner
912 Albany Hwy
East Victoria Park, 6101

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When bad is good

Ok I'm back... it has been way too long since my last post and I suppose most readers out there would have either assumed I had gone MIA or lost interest in food altogether... well I can assure you it was DEFINITELY not the latter.

I have over the past few months, married the love of my life, bought and moved into a new house and come to terms with the new found responsibility of being dad to two pups (well they're both something like 90something in human years but in typical parent speak - they'll always be kids to me).

Nevertheless, my point is I am back. And during all that time, while I've stopped dishing up my insights on my fascination with food on the table that is this blog, I have not stopped eating, pondering and photographing.

And so I'll start sharing a few gems that have been uncovered during this hiatus. I will also start by prefacing that M and I had established a new mantra over the past few months to start discovering more of Perth. Yes, it is quite easy to dismiss this sleepy town as a gastronomic ghost town - and in many ways it still is. But what we have decided to do is put away the better part of our pre-conceptions and just venture out to try stuff - regardless of how unlikely we expect to like places we would normally shun away from due to lack of decor, publicity and general appeal.

Shanghai Flavours in Northbridge is one of these places. Dark, dingy, green fluorescent lighting, a kitchen that is clearly audible with constant shouting and decor that can only be described as stuff you wouldn't even sell on eBay, this was one of those places M and I had always tried to avoid as all the signs yelled (or that could equally have been the cooks in the kitchen) at us to stay away. But we stuck with our conviction and ventured in... and boy were we rewarded. What was also surprising was that whilst Shanghai Flavours is obviously meant to excel in Shanghainese cuisine, it was a Szechuan style dish that blew us away. The Szechuan hotpot here with a choice of beef or fish is incredibly addictive. Numbing szechuan peppercorns balanced with a consistently well seasoned broth and chilli oil hits the flavor buttons on your palate in all the right places. And whilst it probably doesn't look like much, just like the restaurant itself, looks in this case are more than deceiving.

Well worth a try (if you can get past the dining environment).

Shanghai Flavours
Shop 2, 375 William Street
Perth, 6000

Monday, June 7, 2010

Flavour combinations - Bovril braised pork belly

It is a well know and self publicised fact that I adore the dark, sticky, savoury goodness of Bovril. A rather old fashioned ingredient that is known as a condiment to stir into porridge, a convenient instant soup base or in the case of my family, stirred through instant noodles topped with finely sliced spring onions and crispy shallots - eaten with a runny fried egg... (I'm tempted to whip up some right now just thinking about it!)

But for too long this ingredient packed with bovine goodness has been one dimensional for me - always associated with a quick noodle fix. But in one of those moments just this weekend where all you think about is what to cook for your next meal, I began to wonder... surely, something that tasted so good must be good for something else... surely there must be a way of reproducing the flavours that work so well into something else that I adore that will... dare I say... make it taste even more amazing?

Enter the pork belly. I HEART pork belly... a hugely underrated cut that promises melt in your mouth goodness from the thin layers of fat that render to transform into an almost gelatinous consistency... perfect in a slow braise or even roasted to crispen the skin for perfect crackling.

And so - it would make complete sense to marry the beefy, savoury richness of Bovril with the sweet, butteriness of the pork belly... and complete sense it was! I marinated the pork belly overnight in a marinade made from Bovril (of course), mirin, cracked pepper, bay leaves, garlic and shallots (which were grated in).

I then pan seared the pork belly on all sides and poured in the marinade, a little sake to deglaze the by now sticky, gooey pan, and a touch of water. I then threw in a few whole shallots and smashed garlic cloves to simmer with the pork belly for about 45 mins on a low to medium heat.

45 minutes later, the pork belly is removed and cut into bite sized chunks. The stewing liquid is reduced to a syrupy consistency and knob of butter is thrown in to finish the sauce (butter tastes AMAZING with Bovril) and to give it a beautiful gloss.

After plating up, smother the pork belly with very finely sliced spring onions and crispy fried shallots. Eat with piping hot steamed rice and a fried runny egg to pay homage to the way Bovril has always been eaten in my family.

I promise you'll love this recipe.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tummies get ready to rumble

Perth has always been neglected on the gastronomic map of Australia - and to be completely honest, this has not been without good reason. For too long, this sleepy city has produced an alarmingly large proportion of poorly conceptualised restaurants which underwhelm in service and food but overwhelm in price and lack of interest.

But things are changing - and slowly the city is beginning to awaken from the culinary comatose that has plagued it for much too long. Talented chefs and artisanal food stores are injecting the much needed adrenaline into the veins of Perth's food scene, and with it, energising the people who live in it with the realisation that this city also has much to offer.

And whilst I am under no delusion that Perth has a long way to go in achieving the same food culture that is so prevalent in sister cities like Melbourne... I remain hopeful. So it is with much excitement that I await the arrival of the Good Food and Wine Show right here in my adopted city.

In its third year here in Perth, the event will showcase over 150 food, wine and beverage exhibitors. Of course, a definite huge draw card to the show is also the celebrity chefs that will be "performing" cooking demonstrations over the 3 day event. I say "performing" in inverted commas because whilst I am excited at the prospect of seeing Gary Mehigan, George Colombaris (both of Masterchef fame) and Matt Moran whip up culinary delights with hopefully a bit of humour and wit thrown in, other segment descriptions have already started to make me cringe.

Take Manu Feildel's "Spinning plates" segment - "He is the fun, feisty, fancy Frenchman from My Kitchen Rules, now see him juggling his culinary skills with his circus skills." So he's going to be spinning plates whilst cooking up a meal at the same time... right... NEXT!

Nevertheless, events like the Good Food and Wine Show are well worth supporting... afterall, it's publicity that leads to interest... interest that leads to awareness... and awareness that ultimately leads to choosing and demanding the right food direction for this city.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hidden Star

Its always nice to stumble upon the unexpected... to taste something which you totally expect to be only passable, only to find your tastebuds pleasantly surprised. This was the case when M and I decided to pluck up enough courage to have dinner at Bintang cafe, an very non-descript, slightly rough around the edges Indonesian restaurant in East Vic Park. We are both fans of the slightly cleaner looking Batavia cafe around the corner which serves really spot on Indonesian sotos (or soup) and have often wondered about its poorer cousin just around the corner.

Don't get me wrong - not everything is good here - most of what we had ordered tasted at best ordinary... the pempek (Indonesian fried fish cake) was too doughy and had an accompanying sauce that lacked the tang that normally makes this dish very addictive. The satays here were a little too overcooked and burnt, leaving an unpleasant bitter taste despite being smothered in peanut sauce.

Things were not looking good... until we tasted the home made Mie Ayam (or simply fresh egg noodles with a chicken and mushroom topping). Simple... yes. Tasty... very much so. The texture of the home made noodles was great - firm to bite and perfectly seasoned with the basic toppings. Nothing fancy here... just well made, well seasoned noodles... Coupled with the home made kickass sambals on offer here.. this was unexpectedly delicious.

Our adventure into a meal at Bintang (which incidentally translates to "star" in Bahasa Indonesia) was an unexpected surprise... and this is one hidden star where we'll probably keep coming back to for a cheap noodle fix.

Bintang Cafe
12/910 Albany Hwy, East Victoria Park

Bintang Cafe Indonesian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Favourite Ingredient

There are many ingredients that I love to cook and eat with... but above all of the exotic and sometimes painfully expensive ingredients that I can think of, the humble egg takes the numero uno spot in every single way - flavour, texture, versatility and visual appeal. To me... a perfectly cooked egg can transform any dish from pedestrian to something completely memorable and extraordinary.

And so, waking up unusually early on a lazy Sunday morning (I blame this crazy Perth heat) gave me the perfect opportunity to experiment with cooking my favourite ingredient with a new technique - slow poached in its shell.

Readers who remember my post from late last year on Cumulus Inc (that fantastic breakfast spot in Melbourne) will remember how I fell in love with the 65/65 egg dish. Basically an egg poached in its shell at 65 degrees celcius for 65 minutes - I was swooning over the creamy texture of the not quite set egg yolk with the barely set egg white. And so, figuring I had time to dedicate to giving the mighty egg what it deserves, I set out to recreate this dish.

Now a word of warning - this did take a little bit of love and care during the cooking process (particularly if like me, you don't have the luxury of a induction hob which helps with maintaining a constant temperature)... but I firmly believe that food cooked with love is food worth cooking. Plus - the reward makes it all worthwhile.

I simply used a candy thermoeter and immersed a super fresh free range (please) egg in cold water which I brought to a warm bath of 65 degrees celcius (never allow the water to come to the boil or the dish is ruined).

Slow is the name of the game here - but 65 minutes on, crack your egg in a dish and you'll marvel at how beautifully shaped and intensely flavoured this super ingredient truly is. All that's left to do is to serve with fresh toast soldiers and a glass of orange juice for breakfast heaven... eggs-actly the way it should be.

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