Friday, 30 January 2009

Istanbul Iced Tea

I was flicking through the new edition of Gourmet Traveller tonight and came across the recipe for a cocktail called the Istanbul Iced Tea (on page 24). The drink is from The Victoria Room in Sydney. It's exactly what I'd like to be drinking on a hot, sticky Brisbane summer night (and pretty easy to make). Here's the drill:

Muddle a handful of cucumber pieces in the bottom of a shaker or mixing glass.

Half-fill the shaker with ice and pour in 40ml of Plymouth gin, 20ml of St Germain elderflower liqueur, 15 ml of lemon juice and 40ml of Turkish apple tea (which you'll have had the forethought to make up and chill ahead of time).

Give it a good shake, then strain it onto a tall ice-filled glass, garnish with an orchid blossom if you're feeling exotic, and serve without delay.

I think it would be impossible to stop at just one...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Bollinger 007 Bullet Magnum 1999

I got an email today from Champagne Gallery, that featured what can only be described as a pretty unique bottle of wine. Here is the blurb from Champagne Gallery:

On the occasion of the release of Quantum of Solace, Champagne Bollinger has commissioned the French designer Eric Berthes to create a collectors item which would mark the association between the House and Her Majesty's Secret Agent. The concept is that of the bullet of a gun (in the spirit of the Walther PPK) and lying on a carbon covered base.

The bullet, which has an impressive size (about 65cm) contains a magnum of Bollinger Grande Annee 1999 dressed in black and silver. Once the magnum is released from the cradle, the inside of the bullet converts into a set of compartments in which a gentleman may store his personal accessories. The Bullet closes with a leather garnished key

Extremely Limited!!

Only (200+ 007) copies of this collectors item, each individually numbered, were produced.

If you have money to burn, this sure would be a talking point at your next party. I wonder what "personal accessories" a gentleman such as Mr Bond would store inside it? And how could you ever bring yourself to drink it? By the way, it's on sale for the bargain price of $7,007.00.

If you want one, you better get your Aston Martin over to Champagne Gallery quick smart.

Av-a-Chat Cafe

I was thrilled when I recently found out that Av-a-Chat Cafe, a local Blackwood Street eatery, had undergone a change of management and become a Vietnamese restaurant. No longer do I have to drive to the Valley to get a fix of good Vietnamese food.

At this stage I've only had a few takeaway meals from Av-a-Chat. At the moment, the current takeaway menu is pretty compact, with 6 appetizers ($6-$7), 7 main courses (all $11) and 5 desserts ($4-$8). They've told me that they're still working out the local market, and hope to increase the takeaway menu options in the future.

I've had a couple of the Vietnamese rice vermicelli salads, and my favourite so far is the grilled pork salad (pictured). Along with the obvious grilled pork and vermicelli, the salad also includes cucumber, lettuce, carrot and plenty of fresh mint, with some fish sauce to pour over the top. It's great value at $11, and is currently my number one emergency dinner, when I get home too late or just couldn't be bothered cooking anything. At least I can convince myself it's healthy.

If you eat in (which I will sooner or later), there's a bigger menu to choose from. Av-a-Chat also does breakfast and lunch, which I'll have to try out. In the meantime, it's great to see a new Vietnamese restaurant opening on the Northside.

Av-a-Chat Cafe
6/48 Grovely Terrace
Mitchelton 4053
P - 07 3855 1328

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Maggie Beer Ice Cream

I bought a tub of Maggie Beer ice cream as the dessert (along with fresh berries) to round off our traditional Christmas eve dinner. After enjoying a bottle of 1996 Tarlant champagne, and plenty of other goodies, I wasn't exactly hungry by the time dessert swung around.

That was until the first spoonful of ice cream hit my mouth. I chose the vanilla bean and elderflower flavour, and it was absolutely fantastic. I would have to say that it was the best ice cream I've ever bought in a take away tub before. It really was that good. The flavours worked so well together - the richness of the vanilla beans was perfectly complemented by the subtle zing of the elderflower. As you can imagine, the tub didn't last long.

Before you rush out to stock up your freezer, it costs about $10 for a 500ml tub, so it's not exactly cheap. But if you've had a bad day, or just feel like splurging on some amazing ice cream, this is the stuff for you. It comes in a few other flavours, including passionfruit; burnt fig jam honeycomb & caramel; and quince & bitter almond.

I picked up my tub from the Zone Fresh on Newmarket road, but there is full list of Queensland stockists here. Now is the perfect time of year to gobble you way through the whole range!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Where's the butter?

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that just about nowhere in Brisbane actually serves butter with toast anymore? For the last year or so, I've found that almost every cafe I've been to for breakfast brings out their toast with no butter. I'm definitely not a fan of dry toast, and believe me, gluten free toast is so crumbly, you need to smother the stuff with butter.

So to all the cafes out there, please just bring a small blob of butter with your breakfasts. By the time we track down a waiter or waitress, ask for butter and then wait for it to come to the table, our breakfasts are well on the way to going cold.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cam Ranh

My quest to visit as many of Brisbane's Vietnamese restaurants as I can this time led me to Cam Ranh at Darra. We had tried to get into Que Huong, but it looked packed and when we arrived a Chinese dragon was dancing through the restaurant to the sound of some great drumming. I was starving, so we walked around the corner to Cam Ranh instead.

It turned out Cam Ranh was pretty much full as well, but they did find us a table out on the footpath. As soon as we sat down, a thermos of jasmine tea was brought to our table, which was really thirst quenching on a steamy summer night.

My attention was quickly grabbed by the hand written sign on the front door, which said "Mud Crab $35/kilo". Last time I had mud crab at an Asian restaurant it was about $60 a kilo, so the price at Cam Ranh sounded like a bargain.

The menu at Cam Ranh is enormous, with over 200 dishes to choose from, covering both Vietnamese and Chinese food. The menu is broken down into entree, soup, Pho, Hu Tieu (clear rice noodle soup), Mi (egg noodle soup), congee, rice, rice vermicelli, rice paper rolls, chow mein, Hofan noodles, pippis, clam, sweet shell (I wasn't exactly sure what that was), oyster, soft shell crab, mud crab, fish, lamb, chicken, duck, beef, pork, prawn, scallop, calamari and vegetables. You could eat here every week for a year and not even get close to trying all the dishes.

Before arriving at the restaurant, I'd already decided I'd have a soup for entree, so it was just a matter of picking one. There were about 25 to choose from, which meant it wasn't the easiest of decisions. After weighing up interesting soups like crab meat & asparagus, Pho tai gan (rice noodle soup with tendon) and Hu Tieu tom thit (prawn & pork clear rice noodle soup), I ordered the Pho tai (rice noodle soup with sliced beef). Sometimes I just can't go past a good bowl of Pho.

The Pho tai came out in a big bowl, with plenty of flat rice noodles. The soup was served with a separate plate which contained bean sprouts, sliced red chilli, basil and lemon. That way you can make the Pho as hot or as tangy as you like. I loaded it up with a handful of bean sprouts, a few bits of chilli and plenty of basil. As hungry as I was, I didn't manage to finish it. The soup had a lovely beefy, slightly salty flavour and was great. The other reason I didn't finish the Pho is because when I was about half way through the bowl, my huge plate of mud crab arrived at the table.

We also ordered a serve of the rice paper rolls with vegetarian spring rolls. Again, this turned out to be a big serving. The fillings were rice vermicelli, lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, cucumber, pickled carrot and radish. I made up a couple of rolls (I can't resist a rice paper roll on a hot summer night), but we still got nowhere near finishing the plate.

There are so many choices for main course on the menu, I won't even try to go through them. Some of the dishes that appealed to me were pippis in XO sauce, soft shell crab in salt & pepper, Vietnamese fish hot pot, duck in Son Dong style, camp fire beef with rice paper salad and the chilli scallops. Although they all sounded great, I couldn't go past the Singapore mud crab. I know it's not Vietnamese, but it's not every day you walk into a restaurant with such good value mud crabs, so it would have just been wrong of me not to order it. If Singapore mud crab isn't your thing, there were about 8 other mud crab options, which are no doubt equally as delicious.

When I ordered the mud crab, the waitress asked me if it was just the 1 kilo. Maybe she thought I needed a bit of fattening up, but there was no way I was going to get through 2 kilos by myself.
As it turned out, almost everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be eating mud crabs. The three young Vietnamese kids sitting at the table next to us with their parents were tucking into a huge platter of mud crabs, which was just making me hungrier by the minute.

Anyway, as with all the rest of our meals, my mud crab was huge. We found out later when we paid that it was all one crab, that was actually 1.2 kilos. I don't think I've ever eaten so much crab in my life before. The mud crab had been broken into plenty of manageable bits, and was absolutely coated in the Singapore sauce. There were no crab crackers, so you either had to dig the crab meat out with a chopstick (which worked pretty well) or just crack them in your teeth, which is what all the locals were doing. The mud crab was excellent. It hadn't been overcooked, and had plenty of crab flesh. There was so much that, despite my best efforts, I just couldn't finish it. I hadn't even ordered any rice. By the way, the reason there's no photo of the mud crab is because my hands were covered in sauce by that stage of the night.

I've already mentioned that my mud crab came out before I'd finished the Pho. Actually, both our mains arrived while we were still munching away on our starters. It was a hot night, so neither of them were going to go cold, but it didn't give our stomachs a chance to have a break before the next round of food.

Our other main course was a soup with tofu, herbs and vegetables, which my wife had ordered from the steamboat section of the menu. Although this looked great when it arrived, it turned out to be full of pork, which wasn't mentioned on the menu. When my wife checked with the waitress, she was told that it wasn't meat, it was pork. Anyway they were good enough to take it away and replace it with a plate of stir fried vegetables in oyster sauce. There were plenty of snow peas, Chinese broccoli, carrot, mushroom and corn, which were piled up on the plate. I didn't actually try any, because I was too preoccupied with my mud crab, but I'm told it was very tasty.

I eventually admitted defeat on my mud crab. By that time both my hands and probably half my face were covered in the Singapore sauce (not to mention my shirt). Luckily for me though we still had the hot water bowl from the rice paper rolls and we'd both been given hand towels, so that was all cleaned up pretty quickly.

By this stage of the night we hadn't actually managed to finish one of the dishes we ordered, so dessert wasn't an option. All up, our dinner was $72, which included a lychee drink and a fanta. When you consider that my mud crab was $40, the food at Cam Ranh is great value.

Cam Ranh is BYO, and there is a bottle shop just around the corner. The inside of the restaurant looks very similar to many suburban Asian restaurants around Australia. It was definitely preferable to the footpath where we sat, which was pretty much devoid of any ambience at all. But the food was good, and that's why we'd made the trip out to Darra in the first place.

If you're looking for a new Vietnamese restaurant to try, Cam Ranh would be a good start. It has such a huge menu that it would be the perfect place to take a bunch of friends and order a whole heap of food you've never tried before. Or you could just order about 5 different mud crabs in and be in seafood nirvana for the rest of the night. Be warned though, if everyone orders a dish each, you'll never get through them all.

Although the decor and surroundings at Cam Ranh are pretty basic, and service is of the quick, no fuss variety, the food is good. I'll definitely be going back, even if its just for more of their delicious mud crabs.

What does all this mean? A huge selection of Vietnamese and Chinese food, with an emphasis on seafood, at very reasonable prices.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Ok
Ambience - Not much out on the footpath
Value for Money - Great
Wine - BYO
Vegetarian - Ok

Cam Ranh
23 Railway Parade
Darra 4076
P - 07 3375 4348

Cam Ranh on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Stewarts Wine Stock Clearance

If you cleaned out your wine stocks with Christmas and New Year celebrations, now is the perfect time to head into Stewarts for their annual wine stock clearance. That means 20% off when you buy 6 bottles of more. There are a few exclusions from the sale, but otherwise it's a great opportunity to pick up a case of wine at prices well below what you'd usually pay.

I popped in to the Ascot store on the weekend, and was lucky enough to pick up a bottle of 2004 Dry River pinot noir, which can be pretty hard to find in Australia. That's one of the reasons why I love shopping at Stewarts, because you usually come across a few bottles of wine that you've probably never tried before.

With the recent opening of their new store at The Barracks at Petrie Terrace, there are now 4 Stewarts outlets across Brisbane.

Stewarts Annual Wine Stock Clearance
W -

Monday, 19 January 2009

Sameway Milk

Apologies for my recent slackness in posting. It's been a combination of getting a new puppy in early January, together with being way too busy at work.

Anyway, for a long time now I've been looking out for locally produced milk. I love the Barambah Organics milk, which is my favourite, and makes fantastic home coffees. But it can be a bit tricky to track down the one litre bottles.

A week or so ago I headed down the road to our local little IGA to pick up some skim milk for the puppy. As I knew she wouldn't be terribly fussy, I was looking for the cheapest skim milk in the shop. It turned out to be Sameway Slender milk, which I'd never seen before. On closer inspection I saw that it was Queensland owned, and produced in Nanango. So I bought a bottle of the Slender milk for the puppy and one of the normal milk (called Sameway Fresh) for me. Of course I'll always buy Barambah Organics milk when I can find it, but in the meantime I'll be regularly popping in to the local IGA to stock up on Sameway's milk.

I've had a look at the Sameway website, but it doesn't list the Brisbane distributors. Keep an eye out for it at your local IGA though, and hopefully you can pick up a bottle or two. It's yet another great example of the way that IGA support local Queensland producers.

Sameway Milk
P - (07) 4163 1599

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Sherry - Try a Glass Today

It's a real shame that sherry seems to be criminally overlooked as a drink in Australia. I think part of the problem is that people consider it to be a bit of a nana's drink (apologies to all the nanas out there). But once you've tried a glass of good sherry, you'll realise what I'm on about.

The first time I tried a good sherry was, not surprisingly, in Spain. My friends in Madrid took me along to a sherry bar. I'd never been to a bar anything like this place. Against one wall were massive barrels of different types of sherries. The barmen would just pour glasses straight out of the barrels. They served the sherry with tiny slices of this salted, preserved fish. When you had a nibble of the salted fish and washed it down with a mouthful of dry sherry, it was a fantastic match. Anyway that night made me determined to hunt down good sherry in Australia.

At this time of the year, my favourite sherry is manzanilla. Manzanilla is a bone dry sherry, which is matured at the sea-side town of Sanlucar de Barrameda. As soon as a you taste a mouthful of manzanilla, you'll get whacked over the head by its distinctively tangy, almost salty, taste. Its tangy, dry flavour makes it an excellent match with oysters. After a few oysters and a glass of manzanilla, you'll have the flavours of the ocean dancing around your mouth. Manzanilla sherry should be drunk chilled, and you can pick up a decent bottle from Dan Murphys for about $15-$20. So next time you're munching away on some oysters, crack open a bottle of manzanilla as well - it's a great way to enjoy a summer lunch.

My other favourite type of sherry is pedro ximenez, but it's definitely a winter drink. Pedro ximenez (or PX) is a dark brown colour and has a luscious, thick texture. It tastes of caramel, honey, toffee and raisins. In winter I always have a bottle in the cupboard, which usually lasts only a week or two - it can be drunk by itself on a cold night, but is also a great match with chocolate desserts.

You can find both manzanilla and pedro ximenez sherries at good bottle shops across Brisbane. Try one out next time you're looking for something new to drink.