Me and Tea.

I must confess, I am something of a nanna.

I drink coffee in the morning. In fact, if I don’t drink coffee in the morning there are two chances of anything getting done – buckley’s and none*. I like my coffee strong, well-made and preferably made by my darling, though this isn’t always a possibility.

After lunch, I like to have myself a short (or not-so-short, depending on the particular circumstances) nap to recharge the batteries. I find I can carry on without the nap, but my productivity in the afternoon is much better for it.

I knit. I do cross-stitch. I moan about the terrible music young-en’s play these days (unless it’s my own). I sew. I grow herbs and tend them lovingly like a retiree would their magnolias. I bake.

After my afternoon nap however, I like to partake of that sterling past-time: afternoon tea.

I am fussy when it comes to my tea. I will drink any kind o tea at least once, preferably three times across various moods and scenarios just to see if I do or do not like it, BUT (and it is such a big but that bold AND underline are most definitely necessary) there are certain protocols that simply MUST be adhered to.

First and foremost, please for the love of all that is sacred do not use anything but a teapot! When I say teapot, I mean any kind of receptacle actually manufactured for the sole purpose of holding and pouring tea into a drinking receptacle. Not an urn. I don’t care what they had to do in war times in England, it’s just not cricket. Not a tea bag, unless that is all you have available (yes, those reader’s who know me personally will know I do from time to time use teabags, however I disdain the practice and find it rather boorish). DO warm the pot and cups with hot water first. DO allow the tea to brew for the required time, not less and certainly not more. Do use a strainer when pouring English-style tea that has been made with loose tea leaves. DO add the milk to the cup first.

DO NOT clank your teaspoon around your cup as though it were a musical instrument. DO NOT double boil your water. DO NOT make your tea so sugary that you cannot possibly taste the tea. DO NOT add milk to Lady Grey (the Critic’s current, and somewhat perennial, favourite tea), it is just plain wrong.

Why?! I hear you ask in tomes most plaintive. BECAUSE I SAID SO! You wouldn’t stick your Beluga caviar on a Vegemite sandwich. You wouldn’t dream of having and ice cream and tomato ketchup soup. Don’t spoil my tea.

Tea time is a chance to sit, relax, recharge the batteries, console yourself that the world may be going to hell in a hand basket, but just for that very moment as you sip at the warm, fragrant drink in your cup, all is right and well.

Too often I see people at cafe’s asking for tea. Apart from the fact that the best temperature for brewing black tea (the “average” tea everyone in the western world seems most familiar with) is 100 degrees Celsius and the best temperature for pulling a coffee shot out of a machine is 92-96 degrees Celsius (as most cafe’s use the hot water dispenser on their coffee machine to set up the tea for brewing) it seems highly unlikely that you’ll be getting the most out of your tea from a cafe that is not a specialist in the art of brewing tea. Also, most people either under-brew (resulting in a weak, rather forgetful cup) or over-brew (resulting in a cold, bitter cup). It’s a travesty that such people should be allowed to handle such a precious commodity!

Okay. Okay… Maybe you’re all right. Maybe I take this too seriously. But think of it this way. If it weren’t for people like myself, we wouldn’t have Michelin Star restaurants, as we’d all be happy eating whatever slop arrived at the table. Yes. I rather like that analogy.

So this has been something of a deviation from my recent format in that it is not a direct critique, but more of a lesson. My apologies. I shall have another review for you rather shortly. Until then, bon appetit. Also, if you have any suggestions for where you would like me to try the food, please comment and let me know!

* A reference to “buckley’s” for non-Aussie reader’s:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckley%27s_chance

Shanghai Food Court.

This is not going to be enlightening to most of my readers, but I am not a fan of food courts in general. I find the quality of food to be sub-par, the service is normally lacking (if there at all), and you’re almost always left with the feeling you should have looked harder for somewhere to eat.

However, they do serve a purpose. When it’s late at night, or you’re just in a bit of a rush and not being terribly picky about what you eat (I know. I know. It happens to the best of us at times), the humble food court is there with it’s neon signage and glazed over food staring at us.

So, today was one of those days where I knew I needed to eat, but was not so inclined to cook. See, it does hit the best of us. At it happened, a friend obsessed with wanton noodle soup dropped past and suggested lunch. Who was I to say no?

Now, I have tried to educate this friend on her wayward trend towards the food equivalent of a “dive bar”, but she insists on having her soup from the Shanghai food court. *sigh* You can lead a horse to water… It’s okay. She knows I love her.

So she picked the place and we had battle of the Wanton & Noodles. Hers was in soup form. Mine was dry.

Shanghai Food Court - Taste of Asia - Wanton Noodle Soup.

Shanghai Food Court - Taste of Asia - Wanton Noodle Soup.

It’s not awesome. The wantons are mushy and flavourless. The soup isn’t seasoned and has a bit of oil floating on the top of it and the spring onions are the only relief to the “meh” of it all. The noodles are overcooked AND undercooked and the BBQ pork is too sweet. The veg is just how I like it, undercooked and just heated through, but most people would dislike it immensely. The hoisin sauce is a little watered down and there is too much of it.

You get more of the soup poured over when you have it as a soup, which is fine if you like the soup. It tends to pick up some more flavour when it’s poured over the noodles and veg.

Despite of all of that, it’s a passable meal. If you’re not au fait with authentic cuisine from Asian countries, you’ll like it for what it is. It’s a warm meal that fills you up and is relatively healthy. It’s better for you than a kebab from down the road, or soggy chips.

Saigon Cafe & Noodle.

Rather than cook last night, I decided to go out for dinner. Walking around Northbridge was very strange. It was so very quiet last night. Perhaps the poor weather and the recent Reserve Bank decision (yes, I’m not just a foodie. I do actually keep up with current affairs), and supporting reasons for not raising interest rates, kept people indoors. Not me! When I’m hungry, I’m hungry. When I want to go out for food, I’ll brave ANY weather!

Saigon Cafe & Noodle is one of the few places in Northbridge that isn’t fancy, doesn’t have any pretensions, but provides yummy filling food at a relatively decent price.

This particular place is also one of the few places you will find congee, otherwise known as rice porridge, bubur, jook or rice gruel. If you haven’t tried it, do so. It’s basically long cooked rice with additions. Perfect for when you’re not feeling that fantastic. It’s easy to eat, warming and amazingly delicious.

However, there is a more amazing dish that will blow. your. mind.

Rice and 7 meats… That’s right. Seven. Meats…

My dining partner had the lemon grass and chilli beef and rice.

I shall endeavour to get their critique in the not too distant future (at which point I shall edit for y’all).

But back to the meats…

foreground: rice and seven meats. background: lemon grass and chilli beef and rice.

I have had this dish once before, but there my have been high level hunger and a couple of drinks had beforehand. This time, hungry, but not crazily so, and completely sober, it still impressed. It comes with a sweet carrot and chilli sauce used to wet the rice and keep it palatable, as well as a soup to do the same. Let’s count the meats: egg (it’s a protein, so I guess it counts), skewered beef, sausage, pork chop, grilled chicken, a meatloaf type thing and under all that meat on top of the rice is a finely cut pork and onion cooked in a sweet-ish clear sauce.

While some may think the tomato, cucumber and carrot are just there as garnish, but it really does give a freshness to the plate that is necessary. The meat is cooked very nicely, but sometimes you can have a strange taste in your mouth from so much protein.

The egg was just how I like it. This doesn’t mean everyone will like it, because I like my eggs dead. As in D.E.A.D. – no runniness at all thank you very much. Despite this, it wasn’t powdery and dry like the yolk can sometimes get.

The skewered beef wasn’t tough and was cut into small strips that made it easy to take off the skewer and eat without feeling like you were chewing half a cow. It was moderately seasoned and not sticky, which would have been too much for the rest of the meat on the plate.

Lop chong (Chinese dried pork sausage) is much sweeter than sausage that most of you may have tried. Again, I suggest you go and try it. There were two tiny little pieces of it but it has a strong flavour so quality over quantity is a good call.

The pork chop is cut into a hand-shape, allowing it to be verily easily cut up. It was really nice. Not dried out at all and nicely seasoned.

The grilled chicken was also very lovely and moist. Too often chicken is a filler food, just placed on a plate to provided something else, but this was actually really nice and worked well with a little bit of the carrot and chilli sauce.

To those who have never had it, the meatloaf will provide something of a textural challenge. It isn’t mealy like western meatloaf, but is light and soft in your mouth. By itself it’s a bit “nothing” but a little bit with each of the other meats, it worked really well.

I love the pork and onion addition. I am not sure how it is made, but it is delicious. In fact I think next time I go to Saigon, I will ask how it is made and see if I can emulate it at home.

As for the place itself, the staff are sometimes a bit slow, maybe a bit difficult to discern as there isn’t a uniform for them, but I think this gives it a bit of laid-back feel. As Saigon is open until 11pm, it is a good place to drop in on either as an end to an “early” evening, or as a beginning to a late one. You don’t come to places like this looking for a fine dining experience from Michelin Star chefs. You come to it looking for honest food that is delicious and filling. They don’t scrimp on portions sizes at all and the prices are very reasonable, when compared to what is on offer all down James street. I would highly recommend this place to anyone who is interested in trying some real Vietnamese food that isn’t playing to an obviously western crowd. By looking at those who frequent it, you can tell it caters for western tastebuds as well as those accustomed to the flavours they offer. THAT is something you don’t find too often, unless you know where to look.

Details.

Saigon Cafe & Noodle. James street, Northbridge. (08) 9227 1552.

The Great Steampunk Affaire’s Cupcakes.

Well, let’s face it. Cupcake. Singular. I only got a chance to try one of them. There was much tea to be had. Well, two types. But there were urns and urns and urns of hot water. And Cider. And other alcoholic beverages. But, sadly, the cupcakes were the only food fare on offer. And, again sadly, they seemed to run out all too fast. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why yours truly only managed a single cupcake before they all disappeared. For an event starting at eight pm and going until midnight, it did seem strange that there weren’t more foods on offer, even if they had to be bought.

left: vanilla cupcake with buttercream icing and sugar art clock. right: the same with orange slice.

Please excuse my finger in the top left corner. I am normally quite careful with my photo taking.

The cupcake was lovely and moist, with just the right amount of crumble you want in a cupcake. The buttercream icing was a little crunchy, suggesting the icing was made in a hurry, but the sugar art clock was lovely. Not too crunchy (so it hadn’t been sitting there for ages) and not too soft. Apparently, each clock-topped cupcake has its own individual time on it. My companion for the event had the orange-topped one and concurred with my opinion. He’s a food-lover too, so I accept his opinion readily.

There were also chocolate cupcakes and I really would have liked to have tried one of those. Too often chocolate cupcakes are too dry, too heavy or just too powdery (in the case of those used cocoa powder). They disappeared very quickly too, so either they were just as good, or people were hungry.

These were made by a lass working out of her home. As such, these really do rival some of the “professional” cupcake businesses that seem to have popped up in the last few years. Being a bit of a cupcake aficionado, I think I can safely say that quality definitely made up for quantity in this case. My tummy just wished there was more. That could have been saved by there being more food.

Details:

Cupcakes by Katie. www.facebook.com/pages/Cupcakes-by-Katie-Perth/104058712969804?sk=info 0416 262 030

Mundaring Truffle Festival.

I was lucky enough to attend this year’s Mundaring Truffle Festival on Saturday the 30th of July. While not strictly a restaurant or eating establishment, there were representatives of quite a few places where one might go to eat.

Despite the dark clouds threatening to send the large crowds scattering for shelter at any moment, there really was only one or two short-lived downpours.

I think we have to thank shows like “Masterchef” and “My Kitchen Rules” for the rise in popularity of such shows. However, it was a bit disappointing that so many of those who attended seemed to only be doing so because they had been told that truffles were amazing and, as such, held that view themselves. It’s a bit silly if you’re going to fork out (pun intended) that much money, time and effort to attend something like the truffle festival, that you wouldn’t be going to truly appreciate all that it had to offer.

So what did your intrepid Critic sample?

So. Much. Truffle…

The local restaurant, The Loose Box, was there in fine form…

Losse Box offerings.

foreground: truffle sprinkled brie and baguette. background: duck and truffle riette and baguette.

There were a bevy of items on the menu from the Loose box, but the best by far were these two.

The duck riette had a very full flavour that some thought was a bit rich for their liking. Slow-cooked duck combined with a rich gelatine with just a hint of truffle. The baguette offered a nice textural counterpoint.

The brie, while lovely, was a little disappointing. It was almost like it was served up as an afterthought. If memory serves, it was a double brie, but a triple would have been nicer. Also, the wheel had simply been cut in half with the truffle shavings sprinkled over the top and then placed back together, so whenever you tried to cut into it and place it on the baguette, the pieces fell apart. It would have been nice if it had been given a chance to set back together.

Linley Valley Pork had four chefs from different restaurants all working together with some lovely results. Sadly, my memory is failing me with the chefs names and their respective restaurants.

foreground: pork loin with mash and truffled salt. background: pork belly with crackle dust.

The fat on the pork belly was rendered oh so lovely, and while I love me a great huge piece of crackle, just the dust stopped this offering from being too rich to eat anything else.

The loin was lovely and moist, with the crumbing on the outside being nice and crunchy. The amount of mash was amazing! Normally in events like this, they strip the meal right down and offer it in a more haute cuisine manner, but this was actually a nice amount just as was.

Creative Catering had some interesting offerings…

left: mushroom and truffle pie. right: rabbit and truffle spring roll.

A rabbit and truffle spring roll, which didn’t quite have the flavour explosion I was hoping for.

The mushroom and truffle pie which was lovely, though the pastry shell was a bit solid for my liking. Not that I can talk, because my pastry at home leaves a lot to be desired.

There was one stand out offering from Must winebar that deserves a mention all of its own. Wait for it… a chicken and truffle … ICECREAM! That’s right. an icecream using chicken and truffles. Sounds weird, messes with your preconceptions, but freaking awesome!

The truly amazing chicken and truffle icecream.

While not truffle-related there was a very interesting stand with native fruits:

Red centre limes and sunrise limes may have made it home with me to try and make into a lime brulee… Watch this space for more on that adventure. 🙂

So that was the truffle festival.

All in all a lovely day out.

It was a little disappointing that the Wine Show that was being held in the same venue was not better advertised at the entry. Paying for your ticket for entry to the truffle festival, there was also separate costs for the wine show, not actually mentioned until you got to the tent…

Establishment details:

The Loose Box. www.loosebox.com.au (08) 9295 1787 (Mundaring)

Creative Catering. www.creativecatering.vpweb.com.au  (08) 64013557 (Padbury)

Must Winebar. www.must.com.au  (08) 9328 8255 (Northbridge) (08) 9758 8877 (Margaret River)