Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lapa Brazilian Barbecue

Published in Grok Magazine Issue #4 "Under the Sea", page 35


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Last year, I decided to backpack around Brazil over the Christmas holidays. I just wanted to get out of my comfort zone. My friends couldn't understand why I wanted to go to Brazil of all places. Mother was less than pleased. "Why you go there la? You so silly you, aiyoooooo."

But I knew what I wanted, so I handed in my resignation at Vodafone and packed my bags. I came back in March with new hopes and dreams, a startling tan and some basic Portuguese. Unfortunately I also retured home with a pretty crappy credit card debt and no job. My plan had been to just find one when I got home - how hard could it be?

A month later, I'd distributed a bajillion resumes, spammed Seek and was still unemployed. One afternoon I sat on Urbanspoon, flicking through high-end restaurants I would love to work in, many of which had already rejected me as I had no fine-dining waitressing experience. I was about to snap my laptop shut when a link caught my eye under the 'Talk of the Town' section: Lapa Brazilian Barbecue. I practically fell over myself running to find the phone, and dialed their number.

"Hi! My name's Belinda, could I please speak to the manager?"
"Yes, speaking."
"I was just calling to enquire whether or not you guys are looking for waitresses at the moment?"
"You're Australian?"

"Yes."
"Well... Yes, yes we are I suppose, do you have any waitressing experience?"
"I worked in a little restaurant for about 6 months last year, and I've worked in three cafes."

"I see. That's all very well, but the thing is, we kind of need you to be able to speak Brazilian Portuguese, so unfortunately I don't think you'll be suitable."
"Well, as a matter of fact..."


And there you were thinking Brazilian Portuguese was a useless language.

The Restaurant 

Lapa is a Brazilian churrascaria (barbecue restaurant) that has made a name for itself in Perth for its unique dining experience, weekend samba performances, noticeably attractive Brazilian meat carvers and consistently excellent food. Since opening in December, Lapa has received 14/20s from Rob Broadfield and Gail Williams, a nomination for the Australian Ethnic Business Award and widespread approval by the Perth foodblogging community. It's generally booked out three weekends in advance and even packs out on weeknights. And yes. I am bragging shamelessly. 

The secret to success? Enter Fabio: head chef, experienced restauranteur and all-round cool guy. Born and raised in Curitiba, Fabio gained experience running his family's churrascaria, a business passed down from his grandfather to his father, and eventually to Fabio himself. It was there that Fabio learned everything he knows about authentic Brazilian food and how to cook the perfect churrasco. By running his own eatery, he learned that while plating up good food is important, all elements of a restaurant need to work together in order to create a first-rate institution. So when you come to Lapa, you don't just get Brazilian food, you get a Brazilian experience. 

The Rodízio

The most popular item on the menu at Lapa is the $49 'Endless Feast' or Rodízio, and if you've never tried it before, you have to experience yourself to understand what I'm talking about. Sometimes new customers will come in and ask for the 'buffet' - which I think is a bit of an insult. For me, the word 'buffet' calls to mind people awkwardly lining up for watery-looking casseroles, large trays of sliced salami, funky salads, and being surrounded by a disproportionate amount of old people. But not at Lapa.

Firstly, you don't go to the food - the food comes to you. Your best friend is a little cardboard coaster next to your plate that is green with 'sim por favor' (yes please) on one side, red with 'não obrigado' (no thank you) on the other. Provided that little thing is green, passadores (meat passers) will come to your table every five minutes or so and place a 1-meter skewer of meat on the table. Equipped with a large machete and manly biceps, they will slice off a succulent piece of meat for you, fresh from the oven and onto your plate.

There are 16 different cuts of chicken, lamb, beef and pork on offer at Lapa. There's a floor-to-ceiling glass window separating the kitchen and the restaurant, so customers have a view of the oven (the size of a small van) where all the different types of meat slowly roast on rotating spits. The set includes picanha rump cap (a Brazilian favourite), Argentinian scotch fillet, beef ribs, Brazilian pork sausage, kebabs, pork belly rib, pork scotch fillet, lamp rump, lamb chop loin, chicken wings, chicken parmesean, chicken hearts and chicken medallions wrapped in bacon. And then there's a plethora of sides you can choose from, with everything from chimmichurri to barbecued cinnamon pineapple.

My favourite would hands down have to be the pork belly followed closely by the beef ribs - a slab of meat so big that it has to be wheeled out on a trolley. Because it's been slow-roasted for 6 hours, it never fails to be this succulent, rich, melt-in-your-mouth consistency and goes really well with some refreshing molho vinagrete (the red salsa) that also comes to the table. And if you have room for dessert, definitely go the condensed milk pudding. 

In the two months that I spent in Brazil, what really struck me was the incredible energy, warmth, flair and spontaneity of Brazilian people. You can see it in the way they greet each other, the way they go absolutely bananas for their soccer team, in their love of the beach and all things to do with being in the sun. This zest for life shines through so clearly in their food. So to me it only makes sense that the food is so wonderful: a delicious culture deserves a delicious cuisine.

Lapa Brazilian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grizzly Bear Pancakes

I made these for Desiree, one of my good friends who's been in the US on exchange for the past year. We have one of those rare friendships that go unaffected by time and distance. Even though I hadn't seen her in so long, it was like she had never been away. On Saturday morning, she came over for breakfast and to catch up, and took these photos for me with her amazeballs camera. This is one of Nigella Lawson's recipes, and it's absolutely fool proof! I reckon you should give it a crack. And I don't mean to brag... but these were really good. 


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Grizzly Bear Pancakes
(makes 5 triple-pancake stacks)

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt 
  • 1 1/3 cups full cream milk 
  • 10 slices of bacon 
  • 5 eggs
  • Vegetable oil, for frying bacon
  • Butter, for frying pancakes
  • Maple syrup (or golden syrup) 

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1. Melt butter in microwave, and set aside to cool slightly while preparing the pancakes.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt, stir.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together, add the slightly cooled butter, and pour the wet ingredients into the flour whilst whisking. You should have a really smooth consistency. 
4. Fry the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels (keep them under the grill if you can). Fry the eggs, sunny side up.
5. Smear pan with a small knob of butter and fry pancakes in 1/4 cup measures on a low/medium heat. When bubbles start appearing on the surface, flip them and then cook for another few minutes. This recipe should give you 15 pancakes.
6. Layer pancakes with bacon in stacks of three, and top with sunny-side up egg. Drizzle with maple syrup and serve immediately with mimosas. 


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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Trustee

The Trustee Bar and Bistro
133 St George's Terrace, Perth 6000
(08) 6263 3000
www.thetrustee.com.au


Figure 1: Classic concept 

The Trustee only opened on St George's Terrace in May this year, but has already made a name for itself in the Perth food scene, particularly amongst the suit-and-tie crowd. There are high expectations: Ian Curley, consultant chef of the Trustee is widely considered one of Australia's best. Ian actually served six months in prison when he was a young man for being involved in a London gang fight, but got his life back on track when he picked up cooking upon his release. He currently oversees several restaurants in Melbourne including The Supper Club, Siglo and The European (one of the restaurants on my bucket-list). Now, he's brought his magic to the Trustee and created a menu which is described on the website as 'European peasant fare', which I find very odd indeed. You can't possibly be telling me that farmers and labourers in the Middle Ages ate like this. 


Figure 2: Dying to check out the bar in the very near future!

I arrived a little early for our booking, so I walked straight into the building and asked to be seated. Turns out I actually walked straight past the "BISTRO DOWNSTAIRS" sign and into the bar, which was rather embarassing (I was a little hungover). The perfectly groomed maître d' smiled all the same and led me downstairs to our table for two. I must have looked like a toddler in the doctor's waiting room, playing with the bits and pieces on our table and drooling on everything: the menus, the ornamental antique lamp and the little dishes of salt and pepper, grinning around the room with a glazed expression on my face. I couldn't take many photos of the dining room because I was within close range of intimidating businessmen, but to sum up the interior design in three words: sophisticated, rustic, and money. 


Figure 3: Black pepper and pink rock salt 


Figure 4: One of everything, please 

Shortly, Lucas strode in, dressed in his corporate best, looking dashing and handsome in a suit, while I sat there looking disheveled and probably still smelt like the Deen. But it was lovely to sit down and chat with him for the first time in a while. The thing about Lucas (which is infuriating yet endearing at the same time) is that he is always cool, calm and collected, no matter the situation. Talking to him always has a soothing effect on me, especially during exams. Like being around a scented candle.

To drink, I ordered a glass of sweet, medium-bodied white, which was a gorgeous French 2010 Jean-Luc Mader Pinot Blanc ($14). On the food menu, there were many other intriguing dishes like the nose-to-tail pie ($32), chateaubriand for two ($95), and duck confit, puy lentils ($34). However, we settled on three small plates to share. Or rather, I said I liked the look of three particular items on the menu and Lucas was too much of a gentleman to fight me on it. 


Figure 5: Corporate lunch


Figure 7: Duck liver parfait

The first: truffled duck liver and smoked eel parfait, brioche, poached pears ($22). The initial thought was that visually, the presentation was a bit amiss. The plate looked a little lifeless despite the drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and single stick of garnish, and it wouldn't have hurt to have given us a more than two little slices of brioche, especially for that price! But as soon as I had a bite of the light, crisp brioche smeared with a thick layer of that parfait, my tastebuds were flooded with beautiful, rich flavours. The little balls of pear were perfectly spherical and served as a subtle foil for the intense parfait. This one was probably my favourite. 


Figure 8: Crab linguine

Next: black and white crab linguine, tomato fondue ($32). What I really liked about this dish was its lightness. The sauce hadn't been reduced down into a thick, mushy sauce but was still fresh and chunky, and had been tossed through some linguine, half of which was coloured with squid-ink. The black linguine had a really unique taste. I've never had it before, but it had this subtle briny flavour to it that went really well with the crab meat. Really lovely dish. 


Figure 9: Pork belly parcel

Last: pork belly parcel, apple, cress, fried shallots ($19), which looked amazing. It looked like Spring, presented on a plate. The pork belly was wrapped in crisp filo pastry and had cress, shallots and julienned apple cascading off of it. Beautiful presentation and textures. Unfortunately, the pork belly itself lacked flavour and had been cooked a liiiiiitle bit too long. I like pork belly to be luscious, melt-in-your mouth tender. It could have done with a little dish of apple sauce or chutney maybe, to counter the dryness. 


Figure 10: Dessert menu with wines to match


Figure 11: Gorgeous crème brulée 

Lucas chose dessert, and he chose well. The apple and vanilla marscapone crème brulée, apple sorbet ($16) was so good, I could have eaten two for myself. The crème brulée just looked so (for want of a better word) pretty, like fire splotches on the sun. The surface was a paper-thin sheet of crisp caramel that shattered like a little glass window, giving way to custard the consistency of whipped butter. The custard was creamy, yet so light, and when taken with a little morsel of sorbet and apple cake, I was in agony. 


Figure 12: Sorbet, apple bite 


Figure 13: Shards of caramelised sugar

The Trustee Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Boucla

Boucla Kafenion 
349 Rokeby Road, Subiaco 6008
(08) 9381 2841

For months, I've been driving straight past Boucla, usually at about 90kmph because I'm late to work with no time to stop for caffeine. It doesn't help that it's situated in a bit of a funny location, in amongst some commercial buildings, away from the lively section of Rokeby Road. The first time I sped past the discreet shopfront and saw the darkened windows flash past, I said to myself that I'd check it out, but never got round to it until a couple of weeks ago. Now that I've been, my only regret is that I didn't get off my ass and go sooner. I love this place. 


Figure 1: Perfect place for coffee encounters

Kafenions are traditional little Greek cafés, usually found in the village square, that serve several functions. Not only can you get your morning coffee at a kafenion, but also mezze (small dishes such as olives or feta cheese), ouzo (a Greek anise-flavoured aperitif), brandy, beer, soft drinks, gas cylinders (as you do) and even the mail. Apparently, on one of the Greek Islands called Corfu, the postman delivers all of the village's mail to the kafenion for the locals to pick up. Traditionally, it's mostly men that go to kafenions, to talk, discuss and argue, as Greeks do best. It's something I definitely want to see when I go backpacking in Greece next year. 


Figure 2: Assortment of European-themed cards - I bought two for my travel mural

The inside of Boucla is a wonder. I got there about 20 minutes earlier than Dav, and spent the entire time just letting my eyes slowly wander around the room, taking in all of the details (the staff probably thought I was a bit special or something). There were old, dusty oil lamps and mismatched vases everywhere, curious black and white photos that tell stories, darkly-coloured wrapping paper hanging from the counter blended with shades of gold, and peculiar little red glass lanterns hanging everywhere. What I love about the interior design is that nothing actually matches, yet everything still looks so beautiful and seamless, like every ornament, every candle has a place where it belongs. 


Figure 3: Cute, cosy, quiet 


Figure 4: Chickpea salad and vege tarts 


Figure 5: Kotopita, a Greek chicken pie


Figure 6: "I command you to eat me!" 

Just before the midday rush, freshly cooked fritatas, quiches, tarts, and little baked pastries still in their baking trays materialise out of nowhere, and they disappear just as quickly - this place is obviously a very popular lunch spot which pulls a lot of regulars. There are also some wraps and amazing looking salads on offer (on this day there was a a couscous salad, traditional Greek and a spiced chickpea one too). 

I took one look at the fritata that had just been taken out of the oven and laid on the counter, and ordered it dine-in ($12). I don't even like fritatas, I always find them to be a mushy, overly-eggy and generally unpleasant experience. But this one was nice and light, packed full of lightly cooked vegetables and just tasted like a good, home-cooked meal. 


Figure 7: Potato fritata with salad and balsamic vinegar


Figure 8: Life is full of difficult choices 

The sweets on display at Boucla are a thing of beauty. They're displayed in the open, at room temperature, instead of trapped behind a pane of glass. And something about them being within arm's reach, sitting right under your nose while you're lining up to order makes them seem so much more irresistible. There are huge cakes topped with berries that glisten with glaze and icing sugar, an assortment of nutty slices, and a couple of unusual looking ones which I didn't recognise. It's delightful to come across a café that offers something other than boring-looking lemon cheesecake and blueberry muffins. 


Figure 9: Dying to try the little custard tarts! 


Figure 10: What do you mean, diet?


Figure 11: White chocolate cake 

Dav ordered a slice of the white chocolate cake (although I'm fairly sure I ate most of it), which was a moist, fluffy vanilla sponge under a thick layer of pure white chocolate. It was a bit of a challenge to eat, but a delicious combination of flavours, and went well with my soy latte, which was perfectly steamed, may I add. We had a discussion and came to the conclusion that male, indie-looking baristas always make the best coffee. The more tattoos, the better.


Figure 12: Hot soy latte on a winter's day


Figure 13: The Boucla cubby-house

I love Boucla's little alleyway, separate from the main dining room. A sanctuary filled with beaded cushions, gorgeous coffee tables and little lanterns hanging from the ceiling. It's the kind of place where I could sit for hours on a Sunday afternoon, reading a book under the dappled sunlight. It's one of the two reasons why I'll be coming back to Boucla. The other reason is French, exceptionally cute and provides excellent customer service. 


Figure 14: A world away

Boucla Kafenion on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Steak à la Sam


Figure 1: Steak extraordinaire! 

On my first weekend in Buenos Aires, Sam and the guys at the RoadHouse cobbled together the barbecue sitting on the rooftop terrace and cooked up some steak on the open grill. We all sat on the rooftop drinking Malbec, munching on nachos, and when the steak was ready, they cut them into bite size pieces and passed it around. It was just so incredibly juicy, tender and succulent. Sam promise me he'd teach me how to cook steak like that before I left. 


Figure 2: On the rooftop


Figure 3: Reason #674 why I love South America - amazing meat! 


Figure 4: We love our bread. We love our butter. But most of all. We love our steak. 


Figure 5: Ridiculously juicy 


Figure 6: Masterclass

So on a Wednesday night, true to his word, Sam taught me his ways. I made up some mashed potato and a simple salad, and Sam worked his magic on a couple of steaks while I watched and learned. Here's the recipe. 

Ingredients

Rock salt
A few cloves fresh garlic
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 tbsp oregano
A shitload of chimmichurri
1 tbsp dried rosemary
Black pepper
Olive oil, nicked from someone else's locker


Figure 7: Herby goodness! 

Method

1. Take your delicious 10 peso store-bought steak and season generously with rock salt.
2. Squish the garlic cloves on the counter with the chopping board, then chop them up and put them in a bowl.
3. Throw in all the herbs and spices with enough olive oil to cover the mixture.
4. Mix well and pour over steaks, using your hands to rub in the marinade.
5. Bake in the oven or over an open grill until cooked to your liking.



Figure 8: Awww yeah. 



Figure 9: Reason #452 why I love South America - alfajores

And just because he's a lad, Sam bought us some dessert too - white chocolate alfajores, which is a biscuit made up of two round sweet biscuits with dulce de leche sandwiched in between. Bless! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Clarence's

Clarence's
566 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley
(08) 9228 9474
www.clarences.com.au


Figure 1: Warm and cosy at Clarence's 

Exactly two years ago, when I first started my food blog, I was a bit embarrassed of telling anyone about it. I thought people would mock me, or think it was lame, or stupid. But to my surprise and delight, I've found that it has brought me to people who also share a love of food. People who can savour good food instead of wolfing it down and then asking for the bill. People who can look at a dish and appreciate the ingredients, imagination and skill that has gone into creating it. People who embrace the fact that I am passionate about something and not afraid to show it, even if that means they have to listen to me squeal as our food arrives, and then wait patiently for about 30 seconds or so that I can take photos. And yes, I have seen the photos-of-asians-taking-photos-of-food meme. 


Figure 2: Front dining room 

Last Sunday, three fellow foodies and I made our way to Clarence's for a catch-up before they all dispersed on their holiday travels. Clarence's looks obscure and inconspicuous from the outside, especially on a cold winter's night in Mount Lawley. But as soon as you push the front door open, you're greeted with a warm, inviting atmosphere created by candlelit leather booths, bottles of wine lining exposed brick walls and the lively buzz of young, attractive customers. The vibe is laid back, a little quirky, yet polished. Our waitress was easy-going, knowledgable about the menu and prompt. Tick, tick and tick. 


Figure 3: Napoleone & Co Pear Cider 

I'm still on my green P's and had to drive straight from work that night, so I was pretty devastated that we were there for one of Clarence's Sunday Cider Sessions (cheap ciders from noon to 10pm) and I couldn't drink anything. But I still had a little sip of most of what was on offer, since our table pretty much cleared out the menu (Andrew had four). In the mix was some Napoleone & Co Pear Cider ($8), Custard Scrumpy ($8), and Gypsy Pear ($8).

Clarence's also does 'special fare' on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday nights. I'm particularly keen for the Tuesday night special - Mussels, frites & aioli with a glass of white wine or a pint of golden ale ($25). Yum. 


Figure 4: Save water, drink beer 


Figure 5: Porcini arancini & feta whip 

We sat there for a long while drooling over the menu, and finally settled on ordering three smaller items to get the ball rolling. I chose the porcini arancini & feta whip ($12.5). I adore arancini. The first time I ever tried it was at Amphora's in West Perth last year, and I've been ordering it ever since. I just love their lightness, crunch and subtle taste. Clarence's arancini just hinted at the nutty flavour of porcini mushrooms, and came served with a little lemon wedge, on a smear of feta dressing. Delicious. 


Figure 6: Ohohoho, baguette!

Next up was pork rillettes and house made pickles ($14), topped with a few pieces of pork crackling. Rillettes are a French dish similar to pâté - the meat is heavily salted and cooked in fat until it is tender enough to be shredded, then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. I'd never had rillettes before, and I was a bit weirded out by the texture at first. When I tried to scoop out some of the paste with a knife, it was soft like dough, but I wasn't able to actually separate any of it from the rest of the mixture because of the long strands on pork. I just ended up using my hands to clumps off of it and squashed it it onto some of the crusty baguette. But I liked the smooth, creamy flavour which was set off nicely by the tangy pickles. I'd really like to try duck rillettes next!


Figure 7: Winning chicken wings

The chicken wings & chipotle sauce ($9 for 500g, $16 for 1kg) were a unanimous decision, and you simply must get them if you go to Clarence's. They were impossibly tender and juicy, lightly spiced and just a tad crunchy on the outside. I was so curious as to how they made them so tender that I asked the waitress to ask the chef for me. She reported back shortly after and informed our table that their chicken wings are actually slow-cooked in fat first, then fried for crispness. Confited chicken wings for $9? Hellllll yes.


Figure 8: Roast beetroot salad 

At this point I was starting to fill up, so I opted for a salad instead while the others ordered mains. I got the Roasted beetroot, walnut & feta salad ($13) which also had some pomegranate seeds tossed through it. I don't even like beetroot, not even in burgers, but ordered this one because the waitress said it was amazing - and it was pretty damn good, I must say. The beetroot wasn't sour or bitter at all, but rich and sweet in flavour. The flavours worked really well together, and the balance of the strong feta and woody walnuts were just right.


Figure 9: Pan roasted barramundi 

Angela and Moo got the same main: Pan roasted barramundi pancetta and sage ($27). It was presented beautifully on the plate, scattered with some cress, broad beans, peas, and crispy pancetta. The best bit was the skin, fried until crispy which shattered in your mouth. And as expected, the fish was perfectly cooked.

Sherry's triple-decker prawn club sandwich with tomato & chorizo ($18) got all the attention though, which looked rather impressive stacked up high, served with a side of spiced chips ($8). 


Figure 9: Prawn club sandwich 



Figure 10: Delicious looking dessert menu! 

The dessert menu looked so good, but I had already promised Princess to a dessert date after dinner, so I resisted. However, I will definitely be back in the near future to try one of their offerings, which includes creme brûlée and brownie & frangelico milkshake. As well as round two of those fabulous chicken wings. 


Figure 11: New favourite spot

Clarences on Urbanspoon