Friday, February 26, 2010

Valentine's Day

I am sure you foodies will all agree with me, there is no better way to seduce your better half than with amazing food. For the past few years, I have let professional chefs to produce the amazing food for seduction, but I this year I decided to do it all myself. I hunted down quality produce from the suppliers of top restaurants to see if I could reproduce the same seduction at home.

The entrée was inspired by our trip to Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant on Hospital Road in Chelsea. It is here that my better half found her favourite dish of all time – Ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon with lobster bisque. "Orgasmic" was the description at the time.

Well, despite all my efforts to tract down the proper recipe, three Borders stores and hours on Google later, I came up empty handed. I was given a pasta machine by my better half for Christmas so I was keen to make fresh pasta for the first course. Keeping the ravioli theme, I replaced the lobster and langoustine filling with prawns instead. A poor man’s version. I blitzed half of the prawns, some cream and a few basil leaves in the food processor to make the filling. The other half of the prawns were roughly chopped into chunks and added to the filling for texture. I made the pasta dough with flour, eggs and a dash of saffron infused water. 

After resting it for 30 minutes, I used my new pasta machine to transform it into thin translucent pasta sheets. The end results came out better than I expected, especially for someone making pasta for the first time.

I made a simple vinegarette with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, as well as some fresh diced tomatoes. The flavours actually worked really well with the acidity of fresh tomatoes offsetting the sweet flavours of the prawns.

For main, it had to be meat. I have always wanted to roast a big piece of meat. To source the best meat possible, I went to the Louis Vuitton of butchers, Victor Churchill in Woollahra. It is simply a meat lovers’ wonderland. Glorious cuts of different meats in shining fridges and butchers in their whites carving and preparing meats to order. There is a Berkel traditional flywheel meat slicer that has been carefully restored to its former glory and a large rotisserie with chickens and ducks spinning away. In a cool room to one side, large carcasses of meat are hung to dry age. One wall of the cool room is made of Himalayan salt bricks, which is pretty cool. After spending way too much time in the shop, what caught my eye was a magnificent rib of aged grain-fed beef. The man in white coat carefully carved out a large rib for me and reassured me that it will tastes great no matter how I did it.

The recipe I used came from Neil Perry’s Good Food. I am not a big fan of Neil Perry in general but this particular cookbook is fantastic. Mostly simple recipes that are achievable with lots of beautiful photos.

The beef was marinated in olive oil with garlic and sprigs of rosemary that I borrowed from my neighbour’s front yard. It was then slowed roasted in the oven at 70 degrees for 4 hours until it was between rare and medium rare. It was then rested, the bone removed and seared on a smoking hotplate for a nice crust. I served it with braised peas and Yorkshire pudding.

In keeping with the Valentine’s Day theme, I actually bought fresh peas and podded them myself! It was a labor of love. I braised them with anchovies and lots of butter and olive oil.

I may be biased, but the resulting beef was magnificent. It was tender and full of flavor. The gentle perfume of rosemary was subtle and lifted the dish to another level. The braised peas were sweet and wonderfully salty with anchovies. The Yorkshire pudding caused the smoke alarm to go off but it did not set any palate on fire. The oil wasn’t hot enough when the batter went in so it ended up more like a cake than anything else.

The side dish of ox-heart tomatos, fresh basil and bocconcini is my favourite salad. Not usually a massive tomato fan, there is something about the simple combination of salt, olive oil, basil, tomato and the creamy bocconcini that sets my tastebuds on fire.

To accompany the meal, the chosen wine was the 2002 Taltarni Cephas, from the Pyrenees region in Victoria. It contains 70% shiraz and 30% cabernet  sauvignon, a very classic Australian blend. Even though it is 8 years old, the colour is still dark crimson with little signs of ageing. There was an explosion of dried fruit and slight mint on the nose. There are lots of dried fruit and some mocha and leather on the palate. The tannins are dry but not harsh. It certainly complements the beef very well.

The dessert was a Fig and Hazelnut Cake from Bill Granger’s Holiday cookbook. I love figs. For me, fig is the fruit of love. 

It is quite a simple cake but I  still managed to burn the top!

Luckily it didn’t detract from the sweet figs and hazelnut. I drizzled organic honey from Kangaroo Island on top of the cake before serving it with coffee. Despite the burnt top, the hazelnut and the sweet figs worked very well. My Nespresso coffee machine also came to the fore, producing almost café quality like cappuccino at the touch of a button. Loved it.

So did I recreate a restaurant quality meal?

The pasta was pretty good for a first time effort but certainly not restaurant quality. I would certainly make it again though. The cake was not quite a restaurant dessert but I would happily pay to have one in a café . The beef dish was certainly a triumph and something I would happily pay top dollar for in a top restaurant (except the Yorkshire pudding). It is certainly the perfect Sunday roast.

Did it have the same effect as a restaurant meal on Valentine’s Day? No. It was BETTER. It was such a perfect day. Relaxing at home, no pressure, and the smells of wonderful aromaa filling the house the whole day.

It did take most of the day to cook all three dishes but isn’t that the whole point? Spending the day with your loved one doing the things that you love. The fact that we had such delicious food as a result is a bonus. Buying top quality produce certainly isn’t cheap and you would have paid more at a restaurant, but I doubt by very much. It was such a wonderful day that I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. And we had enough leftovers to relive Valentine’s Day the following day!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Azuma Patisserie & Cafe

Azuma Patisserie & Cafe
Address: Shop 10.01
Level 10, 501 George St
Sydney NSW 2000

Monday - Saturday: 12pm - 10pm
Sunday: 1pm - 8pm

The Tarts seem to drink a lot of coffee and eat a lot of cake. Strangely, our eponymous tarte au citron doesn't seem to be feature as much as it used to, though this is something that some of us are attempting to rectify by means of a Sydney wide trawl for lemon tarts. 

The above, for example, contains no lemons of any type.

The reason for this impromptu coffee and cake was the birthday of Tom, one of the co-founders of the Sydney Tarts.  Rather than going to our regular weekly haunt, we headed instead to Azuma Patisserie (previously known as Cafe Azuma). 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chinese Vs Swiss

Not one to shy away from some controversy, I bring forth to you a very important article which I’m sure everyone will be very interested to read. It could change the way you think towards some established conventions, although I can already foresee certain arguments that will arise from this article. Therefore, before I begin, let me lay down some points for you to consider.

  • Piracy/ fake watches should be actively discouraged.

  • People who choose to wear fake watches are more than likely not able to afford the real ones. So it’s not like watch companies are ‘losing’ a sale. For example, if I was wearing a fake Patek which I got for $50, there is no way I’d be able to afford the real deal at $50,000.

  • There are also those who think the real deal is NOT worth the price they’re charging, but liking the style of the watch, choose to get the erm, less legal version. No, the watch company is still not losing a sale, since the person does not consider the watch to be worth the price, and will not buy it.  In this case perhaps they’ve done themselves a disservice by pricing themselves out of the market.

  • Homage watches to me are a different story. We’re not talking about what constitutes a ‘homage’ and to what point does a homage become a fake. This is a very broad and complex topic and will be discussed at a later stage.

  • Yes I realise that the Chinese watch companies have not spent any money on their on R&D, case/ dial design, etc. However, they have started to do so. This is the same in a lot of other industries. You start off copying someone else’s work, reverse engineer it, and learn from it. Then when you feel confident enough, you stop copying and start making your own.

  • Having said that, I think that some of the more established Swiss brands should be thinking twice about buying ready made cases, dials and movements, assemble them and call themselves a watch company, where in fact they’re really just a marketing firm, outsourcing the actual production of the watch to a few OEMs. This to me is NOT a proper watchmaking company and should not be treated thus.

  • There are a lot of new companies established by watchmakers/ watch enthusiasts who are willing to spend the time and the effort to come up with something genuinely different and interesting. Even if it’s just taking a basic calibre and modifying it to add your own originality.
Now that I’ve gotten those few points off my chest, let’s get into the controversial topic of Chinese vs Swiss.  This road test was purely based on the accuracy of the watches. None of the other criteria were taken into account. I took 2 watches, with similar styling, and running on similar movements. Actually, you could say they’re the same movement. One is a Chinese version of the other. I’m trying to find out if the manufacturing origin impacts on the accuracy of the watch (which is quite important right? We don’t want watches to be inaccurate).

Also, please note that this road test was anything but vaguely scientific. It was done from the perspective of a person who owns the 2 watches and who just wanted to find out if there is any difference in the accuracy of the watches, and I hope that this will give you some sort of a guide.

The Contenders- Swiss on the left. Chinese on the right.

The watches:

1. In the Swiss corner: A watch that in its time was not short on controversy itself - a RXW MM20, powered by the ubiquitous Unitas 6497, basic specs, minimal finishing. 18,000 bph.

2. In the Chinese corner: A homage Italian Navy watch, powered by the Chinese version of the Unitas 6497, amazingly, running at 21,600 bph…

The reference time is the clock that came free on the iMac. The two watches were set as accurately as possible (as the Unitas movement does not hack - meaning the seconds hand keeps on running when you’re setting the time).

The Swiss watch was set 25 seconds slower than reference time. The Chinese watch was set 20 seconds slower than reference time.

The test details :

The test began on the 7th of Feb, 2010, at 8am.

The two watches were tested over the two most common positions (dial up and crown down).  Both watches wound at exactly the same time each day at 8am, and had their positions changed at the same time. The test ran for 7 days, at the end of which both watches were left to run until both stopped, in order to determine the power reserve of each.

One point to keep in mind is that the Swiss watch is quite a few years older than its Chinese counterpart (that I know of) and this may have affected the timing, so I am not expecting the Swiss watch to offer optimum performance. Like I said, not very scientific, but nonetheless something that some watch owners will hopefully find helpful.

Let’s also consider the approximate value for each watch, and the value for their ‘original’ counterpart.

The Chinese - approx value: $150 vs $6500 (PAM177)

The Swiss - approx value $1500 vs approx. $30,000 (PAM127)

This will give you some sort of an idea for the BFYB (Bang For Your Buck) aspect.

About the movements: One important note to consider - I don't think of the Chinese version of the Unitas a fake or a replica, since Sellita (the Swiss movement company that is poised to takeover ETA as the supplier to the rest of the industry after ETA decided not to) is pretty much doing the same thing - manufacturing their own versions of the popular movements like the Unitas 6497/ 6498, the ETA2824, 2892 etc so that the "marketing" watch companies can easily switch to them for movements without the need to drastically alter their dials/cases/casing rings, etc etc. They could start buying movements from Sellita and slot them straight into existing cases. But of course, this area is yet another very broad topic which can be discussed at a later date.

So, after one and a half weeks later, here are the results:

Please click on the image to see the full table

For the power reserve test:

Both fully wound as at 7.05pm, 16/2/10
Swiss stopped at 6.20pm, 18/2/10 giving a power reserve of 47 hours
Chinese stopped at 3.20am, 19/2/10 giving a power reserve of 56 hours.

As you can see from the table, that overall, the Swiss had a better consistency and a much better average overall. It did take a day or so for it to settle down. I was all excited about uncovering some deep dark conspiracy and was really hoping the Chinese watch would out perform its Swiss counterpart. The Chinese watch began admirably, then inconsistency set in. Looking at the big picture it's still very accurate, considering a gain of 5 seconds a day equates to an accuracy of 99.4%. The Swiss, on the other hand, had an accuracy of 99.7%. I mean, really, how much more accurate would you need? I'm happy with a 50% pass mark on an exam...

Also, keeping in mind that the COSC test (the one that Rolex and Breitling so proudly boast about on their dials) has an accuracy tolerance of -4 seconds a day to +6 seconds a day, meaning that both watches performed well within these tolerances that many companies charges you extra for. There are debates on whether the COSC test is actually useful or just a selling gimmick. Many brands such as Patek, IWC, JLC etc all do their own in-house testing with much more stringent criteria. Here is a good post in detail about the COSC test and deciphering the certificate.

An example of a  COSC Certificate - image courtesy of the interweb

Another point to take note is the power reserve. The Swiss watch has a stock standard Unitas 6497 fitted, whereas the Chinese is really a "clone" of the same, but in this instance, the movement has been 'tweaked' to completely clone the version that was fitted to Panerais, ie, at a faster beat rate of 21,600 AND the higher power reserve of 56 hours. I find this aspect fascinating, that they'd gone to the trouble of doing so.

Personally I'd prefer my watch to be gaining time rather than losing, as you know, it's never polite to show up at a meeting 10 seconds late. But this can easily be regulated by your favourite watchmaker.

I won't draw any conclusions from this test. It was just interesting and eye-opening merely conducting this not very scientific test. And I hope that the results have given you something to think about. Or to completely ignore as you prefer the prestige and the status that your Tag brings you.


Thursday, February 18, 2010


Ramen Sensei Mr Akasako of Muteppou visits Gumshara

Ramen Gumshara
Eating World - Harbour Plaza
Dixon Court
25-29 Dixon St
Haymarket NSW 2000
Closed : Mondays

Ah ramen, how we love thee.

We love your progenitors in China, we love the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, and though we have not yet made it to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, we shall one day visit, clutching The Ramen King and I : How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life.

A number of the Tarts love the ramen at Gumshara, though our preferences are different. I myself like the Tonkotsu (aka "the Chronic"), which hails from Kyūshū . Others prefer the Chasu (with extra egg).  Preferences aside, we are in agreement about the addictive taste of Chef Mori's famous award winning ramen.

On 5 Feb 2010 an email appeared in my in-box from Mori, teling me that his Sensei (Master), Mr Akasako of the Muteppou ramen restaurants (Kyoto, Osaka and Nara), had finally found the time to come to Australia and that he would be happy to meet with me.

I was a little excited.

Okay, maybe a lot.

I wasn't the only one though, and after a flurry of emails back and forth, we hoped that five of us would be able to be able to visit Gumshara to pay our respects to Mr Akasako, a man who has devoted two decades to perfecting ramen, of which eleven years has been devoted to his own business. Unfortunately, due to distance and related issues, only two of us made it there in the end.

Finally, the day had arrived. It was time.

The Ramen Master's card.

Onomatopia's Chasu Ramen with extra egg.

Mine - the classic. 

Mr Akasako brought along some of his brochures to give us. The pamphlet on the left opens up to show the dishes he serves at Muteppou, the flier on the right is for his latest venture - a ramen shop in Nara specialising in Tsukemen (つけ麺).

Tsukemen is a style of ramen in which the noodles are served separate from (but to be dipped into), the soup. The noodles are best served cold, though I've had some with the noodles at room temperature, whilst the soup is usually hot and contains the usual ingredients such as chasu, leeks, bamboo shoots. I've eaten tsukemen where the soup has been like a concentrated version of what it would be if the ramen was served in the soup.

As you can see below, the range of ramen available at Muteppou is a very classic selection, and one mirrored in Gumshara's menu.  The item with the question mark is the day's 'mystery ramen', which is a drawn from a limited number of possibilities.

Another fold of the pamphlet shows the locations of the various branches of Muteppou. The panel on the right indicates a takeaway option which can feed four people, with each ramen component in separate containers.

If we look at the bottom of the page, we find that Mr Akasako includes Gumshara.

The menu of the new tsukemen outlet in Nara.

Ramen Sensei Mr Akasako speaks only a little English, so it was left to Mori to be the interpreter as I told him about his protégé's Sydney fame, and how much his ramen is loved. He seemed surprised but pleased to hear that there is ramen passion in Australia.

They have been discussing ramen a lot during his Sensei's visit, and in particular a ramen trend that seems to be taking off, though at the moment I believe that it is still restricted to Tokyo. As there doesn't yet seem to be an English term for this new taste trend, I will call them "flavour balls".

When he started describing them to me, I couldn't quite get my head around it, but when they appeared, made by Sensei Akasako especially for us(!), Mori explained, and it all fell into place.

The one on the left is a fish flavoured one and the one on the right, curry. These are not flavours which are are appearing in Tokyo at the moment, those are more along the lines of chilli balls. As Mori told us, these were world firsts.

The idea of these "flavour balls" is to add some interest and variety to a bowl of ramen. You consume some of your (in this case) tonkotsu based ramen, and then pop your flavour ball into the soup.

The ball is broken up and combined into the soup.  I had the curry ball above. A combination of pork mince, curry powder and other secret ingredients, once this was added the ramen completely changed and became a light curry flavour. The underlying richness and depth of the soup was still there, but with this new added curry layer turning it into a completely different dish. 

I have to confess that it was a lot of fun, like getting two bowls of ramen in one.  Onomatopia had the fish one, from which I tried a mouthful, and like mine, the whole nature of his ramen was completely altered.  The components of the fish flavour ball were elusive, and the only thing that we managed to ascertain was the use of fish powder; what powder we did not find out.

At any rate, we finished our ramen.

my bowl

Onomatopia's bowl

The best is saved for last, of course. Here are Gumshara's Chef Mori and his Sensei, an easygoing humble man with a great love of ramen and a desire, along with Mori, to continue to work and develop their dishes. 

Gumshara will introduce these flavour balls soon, so keep an eye out for them when you next visit Gumshara for your fix.

Arigato gozaimasu! ありがとうございます

Gumshara Ramen on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


MUMU Grill
70 Alexander St
Crows Nest
NSW 2065
Ph : (02) 9460 6877

Some of the best things in life start with the letter B.  Bars, Bugatti, botox and Bono come to mind. So when the invitation came to attend a Beer Tasting Dinner, all other appointments were immediately cancelled.

Head chef Craig Macindoe of MUMU Grill in Crows Nest is a man with a vision and a mission. A great believer in sustainability and caring for the environment, MUMU is the only steakhouse in town that serves only grass-fed beef. Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef leaves a much smaller carbon footprint and is more sustainable.

Craig held a dinner for a group of social media friends to be his guests for the introduction of his new private dining room, and to announce a new monthly beer dinner. The new private room is a lovely room next to the main restaurant with a singular long rectangular table that can seat 20 comfortably.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tastevin Bistro & wine bar

Tastevin bistro & wine bar
1/292-294 Victoria St
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
Ph : (02) 9356 3429

DY, newly working in Darlinghurst, was in search of a lunch companion for Tastevin.

It was, as they say, a no brainer of a decision for me to join him.

On that last occasion, between the two of us we had only ordered one amazing soup and a so-so Croque Monsieur. This time, I again wanted to only have something light, but as they say, the best intentions.....

Saucisson artisinal de Jean Marc ($5)

The ever charming and friendly Alex was there, and told us that the saucisson was made in house, which sold us both.  Not as fatty as other cured meats, such as salamis, it was firm, pleasantly chewy, and a flavoursome way to whet our appetites for what followed.

One of the things that sets Tastevin apart is their use of beautiful Laguiole knives, as characterised by the distinctive Laguiole bee.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cafe Sopra

Cafe Sopra at Fratelli Fresh
7 Dank St
Sydney NSW 2017
Ph : (02) 9699 3174

Monday - Friday 10am - 3pm
Saturday 8am - 3pm
Sunday 10am - 3pm
No bookings

For a change, this will be a photo post with few words.  This was a lunch of three friends attempting to eat healthily at the ever popular Cafe Sopra, and succeeding to varying degrees.

Roast pumpkin salad

You can't see them, but this salad contained mussels