Monday, January 31, 2011

day off

This literally took 15 minutes to make! Quick, fresh, tasty and light recipe. Lately the weather here in Perth has been terribly hot, and it messes with your appetite when its this humid and sticky. And as awesome as my mum's cooking is, its days like these where I don't particularly feel like having pork curry leftovers, fried rice and sambal kangkung. Which sounds dreadfully spoilt and pompous, but hey. You try eating Chinese food 6 days a week, and then tell me that it doesn't all start to taste the same.

So I found this month's edition of delicious. magazine (we got mum a year subscription) and flicked to a random page.

Pasta salad with summer heirloom tomatoes, basil oil and pecorino
Serves 4-6

  • 400g wholemeal rigatoni or other wholemeal short pasta
  • 2 large handfuls basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 300g mixed heirloom tomatoes, halved or cut into wedges
  • Shaved pecorino*, to serve

*Pecorino: Hard sheep's milk cheese from delis, can be substituted for parmesean

1. Cook pasta in large pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions. Drain, then rinse well under cold water.
2. Meanwhile, blanch basil in boiling water for 10 seconds, then rinse under cold water. Drain well, then squeeze out excess water. Place basil in a food processor with oil and pulse until basil is finely chopped.
3. Place the pasta and tomatoes in a large serving bowl. Season, then gently toss to combine. Drizzle with basil oil, scatter with pecorino, and serve.

Recipe by Bill Granger.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Amphora's Tapas Bar & Restaurant
1303 Hay Street
East Perth 6005

This is an epically long post. I advises that you invest about 10 minutes to read this one. Your children's children will thank you.

After many months of anticipation due to busy lives, and one near-death experience due to a taxi driver incapable of giving way, three fellow food-lovers and I finally made it to Amphoras Tapas Bar and Restaurant for our 8pm booking.

However, before I go any further about our adventure, perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what exactly tapas is. When I told people that I was going out for tapas, most of them either just looked at me blankly, or heartily gave their approval and started going on about how much they love Mexican.

Ay caramba.

Tapas (pronounced tah-pahs, not "tappers") is basically a late night meal made up entirely of Spanish appetizers or canapés, accompanied by a round of drinks. The original form of Tapas is from Spain, but the presence of upmarket Tapas bars (like Amphoras) is growing steadily in countries such as the US, UK, Canada and Australia who like to put their own spin on traditional flavours. The same concept of shared dining with small portions can be seen in cuisines all over the world including Argentinian picadas, Korean banchan, Middle Eastern mezze and of course, Chinese dim sum.

The great thing about tapas is it's a very relaxed form of dining. In Spain, dinner is usually served from 9pm to 11pm, so Spaniards will often go for tapas as a snack to sustain them through the afternoon. Traditionally, tapas are eaten standing up or whilst moving about and chatting to others. As patrons don't have to focus on an entire meal in front of them, this means that conversation is a huge part of tapas.

I think that's what I loved most about this meal - we all talked and laughed and talked and ate and drank and talked and talked about nothing but food until we were blue in the face. Or in my case, red in the face. Damn them asian genes.

Amphora's was about half-full when we got there at 8:30pm, the open alfresco brightly lit up against the dark, long walkway of Hay Street. The inside is furnished with shades of brown and red, leather chairs, dark tinted timber, marble and has an almost candlelit quality at night. And that's just the dining area - the actual wine bar is just gorgeous. The entire wall filled to the ceiling with bottles of wines, wines, wines and of course, large glass bottles of spirits lined up along the back wall.

And the service?

Best service I've had in months at a restaurant. The waitress who served us confessed that it was her first day on the job, but honestly, I wouldn't have noticed unless she'd told me. Our orders were taken promptly (none of this getting-up-and-walking-over-to-ask-if-we-can-order-now-please), politely and with a genuine smile. Our food was served at a steady pace, and when I did my usual annoying thing of asking a multitude of questions about the menu, all queries were handled competently. And... wait for it... the kitchen was about to close at 10pm, but stayed open for us for another half an hour to cook our second round of tapas and dessert. Delightful.

I hadn't had any alcohol for about three weeks, and despite the 11 page wine list, I had sworn off wine since New Years (my liver almost broke up with me that night). So I decided on getting a cocktail. Sharon got the Pomegranate Bellini ($12) - Pomegranate juice, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), and fresh pomegranate seeds. She also got an Apple Crumble ($14) - Licor 43, Butterscotch Schnapps, cloudy apple juice, lemon, sugar syrup and fresh apple which went well with dessert because of the strong, sweet butterscotch in it.

I ordered the Apple Mojito ($14) - Havano Blanco (white Spanish rum), Contrieu, fresh lime, mint and apple juice, served in a giant, round bottomed glass with a freshly cut garnish. The mint and the apple was nice and crisp on the tongue, a bit of bitterness from the rum, but balanced by the sweet cointreau. And beautifully boozy.

As there were four of us, we chose a dish each and had two rounds of mains. I've included the photos and translations of any foreign words or other important foodie terms. Altogether we had 8 tapas plates and 3 desserts over two hours.

Y'all ready for this?

1. Crispy cajun calamari, chimchurri aioli ($15)

Chimchurri: a parsley-based sauce made with garlic, olive oil, vinegar and other spices from Central America

Our first dish - light, crispy, cooked just right and a nice blend of spices on the batter. Anyone who has ever ordered a dodgy seafood basket would be familiar with the rubbery tasteless texture that too many people settle for - but there was none o' that at Amphoras. And anything served with aioli is a-ok with me.

2. Dorper lamb meat balls filled with scamorza cheese, roast garlic greek yogurt ($16)

Dorper: a South African breed of lamb
Scamorza: semi-soft white cheeze, firmer and drier than mozarella

Sam's choice - a humble looking dish, but satisfyingly tasty. The meat was juicy and sweet, with a delicate amount of the scamorza in the middle. Appearances can be deceiving.

3. Chalkboard special: Roasted duck, cherry and rocket salad

This one was mine. As I've said before, I am a complete sucker for chalkboard specials, so when I saw the words 'duck' and 'cherries' written up there (two of my favourite ingredients), I knew it was a sign. The duck had this awesomely crispy, sea salty skin on it, which tasted a dream with the cherries and bitter greens. The duck was a tad chewy, but the excellent combo of flavours were more than enough to satisfy me.

4. Chalkboard special: Roasted lamb, grilled nectarines, polenta

I took so long to savour the dish before that by the time I'd gotten to the lamb, the lamb had lost some of its heat and the nectarines some of its cold. But it was saved by the tenderness of the lamb, and the break-apart texture of the sweet nectarine - I'm a big fan of meat plus fruit combos.

5. Fremantle half shell seared scallops, chunky harissa ($16)

Harissa: a hot North African Chilli sauce with piri piri, garlic, paprika and tomato

This one was my runner-up favourite dish. The scallop was cooked perfectly all the way through, and when you bit into it, it was this wonderful texture that was almost like a cross between Malaysian agar-agar jelly and silken tofu. I'm guessing they were just seared with a pinch of seasoning, and dressed with olive oil because the flavour of the scallop was beautifully fresh and clean through the topping. The only thing I could have asked for would be more spice in the harissa, but apart from that - excellent.

6. Cumin roast pumpkin, spinach, macadamia, raisin & brie salad ($14)

This was an interesting one! I swear the raisins were soaked in some kind of juice or alcohol, because there was a certain intensity in the salad that I just couldn't put my finger on. That, plus the salty brie was borderline overpowering... but Spanish tapas is about strong flavours and fresh ingredients, so there you go. And pumpkin and spinach is always a winner in my books.

7. Croquetas

Croquetas: small fried rolls covered with breadcrumbs, usually filled with jamón (Spanish ham) or chicken

When I looked at the menu and saw the relatively short name of this dish compared to something like "Twice roasted plantagenet pork belly, grilled morcilla, tarragon & apple purée", I didn't exactly have high expectations. However, B2 pointed out the psychology of it: it's always the hyped-up dishes and restaurants that let you down, and the dishes with low expectations that surprise you. And so did these croquetas: I don't think I've ever eaten a potato mash that smooth and fluffy! Encased inside a perfectly crisp crust, piping hot and seasoned just right. Delish.

8. Spiced pumpkin and fetta arancini, red pepper and almond pesto ($12)

Arancini: sicilian rice balls, deep fried

These were my favourite. For me, the flavours, texture, temperature, colours and spices were all perfectly balanced. The perfect dish is like a good song: all of the elements have to go well together for it to make it work, and when you get that combination right, there's nothing quite like it. I loved everything about the arancini, from the sweet and spicy filling to the crunch of the almonds in the pesto. 10/10.

9. Churros, warm dark chocolate sauce & orange infused anglaise ($10)

Churros: Spanish deep fried donuts served with a rich, thick chocolate sauce
Anglaise: French for 'cream', a pouring custard flavoured with vanilla

'Nuff said.

10. Summer berry clafoutis, banister downs double cream ($10)

Clafoutis: baked French dessert of cherries arranged in a pancake-like batter, served in a buttered dish

Unfortunately, this one was a bit too eggy and slightly overcooked for my liking. Then again, the kitchen did stayed open just for us, so one not-so-great dish out of eleven is but a small price to pay.

11. Coverture chocolate moelleux cake, pistachio sabayon & vanilla bean ice cream ($10)

Couverture chocolate: high quality chocolate ~35% cocoa butter for a more mellow, creamy flavour used widely in professional baking for better flavour and tempering
Moelleux cake: similar to a fondant, with a slightly firmer melting middle
Sabayon: a light Italian custard made with sweet wine

The best dessert we had hands down - served with a sweet, edible hibiscus flower, it was just heavenly. I was a unsure about the flower, but it was surprisingly sweet and had a nice, natural bite to it. And that chocolate moelleux was absolutely luxurious, as all things couveture chocolate are. I purposely ate this one last, because there's nothing better than having the taste of chocolate linger on your tongue after a good meal.

After a chummy photo or two, we paid, thanked our lovely waitress and left. I started singing on the walk back to the car. Perhaps it was been the cocktails, or it could have just been pure happiness.

I think it was both.

Amphoras Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 15, 2011

death by dessert

The Atrium Buffet at Burswood Entertainment Complex re-opened in December, 2010 after a $10.8 million dollar makeover. Seating 380, its features include look-in cooking stations, Western, Chinese, French and Japanese sections, a carving station, and an excellent selection of seafood. But the Atrium is set apart from other buffets, notably by two things:

a) The flippen' ridiculous dessert station, and
b) The passion and intensity with which Sam Chee bashes your ice cream for you.

The Atrium looks lovely at night. I love it when restaurants put effort into their lighting, because it really does make such a difference to the vibe of the place. Sitting there in the dim, surrounded by warm lighting, with the huge interior of the Intercontinental Hotel opened up above you is pretty special. On the right side of the restaurant was a raised, more intimate dining level where each table had its own lantern hanging over it, emblazoned with the groovy Atrium motif.

I have two contacts who work at the Atrium, and both of them gave me the same advice: don't eat too much of the mains, and save as much room as you can for dessert. However, I have an annoying tendency to do exactly the opposite of what people tell me to do... especially when it is good advice...

Sorry Joel, you know how I'm stubborn and shit like that.

The favourites: the Warm Thai Beef Salad, the French buffet and surprisingly, the Peking Duck. I don't know what they did to the poor bird, but all I know is that it was the sweetest and tastiest duck meat I'd ever eaten.


If I'd had my time again (and I know I won't for a long time, seeing as dinner at the Atrium on a Friday night costs $62.90) I'd have eaten half a plate of mains and saved the rest for the big guns. I ate three full plates of dessert piled high, and felt like I was going to die shortly afterwards.

Unlimited waffles with raspberry coulis, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, maple syrup, strawberries and marshmallows in chocolate fondue, mango and white chocolate mousse, raspberry parfait, apricot and black forest petit-fours, marbled cheesecake. And then there's the ice cream station, where they let you choose your ice cream, toppings, and other goodies (including oreos, pistachios, and summer berries in syrup) which they prepare for you on a cold rock right in front of your eyes.

Below is an accurate representation of me leaving the building.

Atrium on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

christmas at christina's

I absolutely love Italian food, don't get me wrong, but the thing I find with Italian restaurants is that they always tend to give you an elephantine serving that makes you wonder: 'What kind of monster could eat all of this?!'

Christina's was no exception. I swear almost needed medical attention after this meal.

The interior of this place was a little odd - I don't claim to be an expert, but it definitely didn't strike me as a very Italian looking restaurant. I wasn't a fan of the colour scheme: bright red and yellow with too much wooden furniture. There was an emphasis on hanging baskets which I'm pretty sure are English, and are palm trees not are mostly associated with the tropics??

When I go out to a restaurant to eat, I go for the cultural experience as well, which I didn't quite get here. Then again, Victoria Park is probably not the best location to find the quintessential Italian restaurant.

We started off our meal with Bruschetta ($14) which read crispy italian bread with feta cheese, topped with fresh tomato, basil and garlic, and a few baskets of Italian Garlic Toast ($5.5). The garlic bread was nothing to write home about, but the Bruchetta was presented beautifully, even if it did taste pretty average. The tomato topping lacked depth of flavour and it sort of fell apart when you cut into it because it was stacked so high.

In hindsight, we probably should have ordered more adventurous intermezzi like the Fughi alla Griglia or the Zuppa Di Cozze. But alas, I wasn't in charge of ordering this time. To compensate, next time I go out for Italian I'm going to order the craziest thing on the menu. Just like old times in Thailand with Cynthia: when receiving our order was as scary and exciting as turning the crank on a jack-in-the-box. Bring it!

It was a sweltering hot summer evening, so I didn't feel like ordering creamy pasta or a huge cut of meat, even if the Lamb Shanks did look tempting. After much deliberation and skipping over the underwhelming salad menu (Bacon and Cashew Nut Salad, what the fark?) I chose the Misto Mare: A selection of prawns, scallops, squid and fish, deep-fried or grilled, served on a bed of fresh salad with Christina's tangy seafood sauce ($36).

The best part hands down was the grilled scallops with plenty of pale orange roe on them. They were lightly caramelised on the outside, and taken with a sprinkle of lemon juice: quality. I could have eaten a whole serving of those. All of the seafood was very fresh, a little sweet and had been cooked just right. And it all went perfectly with that tangy seafood sauce. Omnomnom.

Ever since I asked for the Osso Buco at Ruocco's in Fremantle off the specials chalkboard, I have been ordering the same way ever since. If it's on a chalkboard, I want it. Usually (but not always) it'll be on the specials board because the kitchen's just gotten in some fresh ingredients for it, it's seasonal, or it's a temporary item on the menu. All of these reasons appeal to me.

In this case, maybe Christina's put the Sticky Date Pudding ($10.5) on the specials chalkboard because they wanted to kill me.

When we asked how many this dessert would serve, the robust waitress said "Ahhh that one? 'At'll serve ya four, mate. It's just real big, it is." We ignored her and ordered two for four people. Big mistake.

Think four slices of toast, except instead of toast it was dense, rich date cake served in some seriously intense caramel sauce, topped with cream and ice cream. Although it was rich and gooey and yummy, there wasn't much balance in the dish. I may have been a bit ambitious ordering this one after such a big meal, but I couldn't resist... it was on a chalkboard!!

The verdict? Not a bad meal, nothing to complain about, but the food could have done with a bit more balance of flavours and textures. But at the end of the day, it didn't really matter to me what the food was like. Everyone in my family are workaholics, so this was the first meal we'd all gone out for together for about 6 months. It was good we got to spend some time together during Christmas time before my brother went overseas, and mum even cracked a few jokes (oh god).

On a final note, do excuse the crappy photos, my little black Samsung digital camera is about to kick the bucket. Just you wait, one day I'll be a well-to-do lawyer and will be able to afford a fully sick Nikon DSLR, so I can take macro shots until the cows come home.

Christina's on Urbanspoon