Monday, 30 March 2009

Chinese Hot Pot

I've had a reader ask me to recommend a Chinese Hot Pot restaurant in Brisbane.

I don't know of any myself, and my googling hasn't thrown up any obvious places. I've been to plenty of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in Brisbane that have hot pot dishes, but none that specialise in it.

So if anyone knows of a specialist Chinese Hot Pot restaurant in or around Brisbane, can you let me know? Then I can go and try it out as well.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Get your own shrimp

Sick of buying un-named, generic seafood? Tired of just asking for a kilo of "those" king prawns?

Well next time you head down to your local seafood supplier, you could just be buying your very own shrimp. I was just reading through Food Detective in today's Weekend Australian, only to find out that the Australian Marine Conservation Society is running an eBay auction to name a new species of shrimp. You can read about it on the AMCS website here. Of course all profits from the auction go towards marine conservation.

When I checked today, bidding on eBay was up to $3,050.00. So if you win the $20 million lotto tonight, make sure you throw in a generous bid! You've got to admit it's a very cool looking shrimp.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Menulog Competition

Just a reminder - today is your last chance to get suggestions in for the Menulog competition.

See my earlier post for more details.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Choux Box

I've just come back from our annual relaxing beach trip to Kingscliff, where once again we enjoyed some terrific food.

Choux Box is one of the cafes on Marine Parade at Kingscliff that is perennially busy. That's because it is an excellent cafe.

On our first visit, we ambled up for morning tea after a swim at the beach. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling the best, so I couldn't enjoy any of the scrumptious looking cakes sitting in the display cabinet. My wife on the other hand was only there for the cakes.

Part of the Kingscliff experience is walking past cafes like Choux Box every day, checking out the range of cakes they have on offer every day. On this visit, the daily specials were chocolate eclairs or a variety of friands. One of those cakes and a coffee or tea was only $7.50, which was a great deal. I had to settle for a black tea, while I watched the chocolate eclair vanish off the plate in front of me.

Next time round though I was over the stomach bug and was looking forward to a tasty beach breakfast. Tables at Choux Box fill up quickly for breakfasts on the weekends, so it can be a bit hit and miss if you show up at the wrong time. Luckily we were a little bit later than peak breakfast hour, so we snagged a table out the front.

The breakfast menu at Choux Box isn't huge, but it's very tempting. After a bit of indecision, I fell back to my old favourite, bacon and eggs. It turned out to be a good choice. The eggs were perfectly poached, with the whites straggling across my plate. There was also loads of bacon, which just so happened to be crunchy, exactly how I love my bacon to be cooked. It was the biggest serving of bacon I've come across on a breakfast plate for a long time. I also had half a cooked tomato and some good gluten free toast. Sometimes a simple breakfast, cooked well, takes a lot of beating. I washed this heavenly breakfast down with a good strong flat white.

We also ordered a corn fritter with avocado and tomato. When this dish arrived at the table, it turned out to be a large, almost pancake sized corn fritter, that had been drizzled with basil pesto. It was topped with half an avocado, some cooked tomato and a bit of rocket. I was too busy wolfing down my bacon and eggs to try any, but I was assured that the corn fritter was one of the best vegetarian breakfasts my wife had eaten for a long time. The corn fritter had a good, light consistency, the pesto was obviously freshly made and the avocado was perfectly ripe. I did manage to steal a bit of avocado and immediately made a mental note to order more avocado for breakfast.

As well as the flat white, we had a coffee frappe. Although we were expecting it to be an icy frappe, it turned out to be more like a coffee thickshake. But it was a good coffee thickshake, with a proper coffee bitterness to it. Miles better than the sweet iced coffees that tend to be the norm in the cafe world.

All up our breakfast was $37. Service was very snappy, and we hardly waited at all for our breakfasts to arrive (not that we were in any kind of hurry). Heading back to Brisbane after a swim and such an excellent breakfast sure was hard to take. I could easily be convinced to have breakfast at Choux Box every weekend.

Sorry there are no photos, but my excuse was I was on holidays.

What does all this mean? Excellent breakfasts, cakes and coffees served in a casual beach-side atmosphere.

food bling ratings
Food - Great
Service - Great
Ambience - Relaxed, beach feel with outside tables on the footpath
Value for Money - Good
Vegetarian - Good
Gluten Free - Good selection

Choux Box
94 Marine Parade
Kingscliff NSW 2487
P - 02 6674 1993

Choux Box on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Mandarin Palace

After a few drinks at the Elephant & Wheelbarrow in the Valley on the weekend, a group of us headed off to dinner at the Mandarin Palace.

To be completely honest, the main reason we picked the Mandarin Palace was because we had a big group, and we were looking for somewhere in the Entertainment Book.

In all my 15 years or so of eating Asian food in the Valley, I'd never been to the Mandarin Palace before, so I didn't have any spectacular expectations. I also have to admit that by the time we arrived at restaurant, I'd had a few drinks, so keeping any kind of decent notes was out of the question.

We were shown to a big table in the back part of the restaurant, past the fish tanks containing lobsters and live fish. We sat right next to the karaoke machine, which unfortunately wasn't working. On the other hand, it was fortunate for the restaurant, otherwise we might never have actually left.

We ordered a few of the usual suspects when it came to entrees. I had a couple of the Malaysian chicken satay skewers to kick off the night ($5.80 for two). For some reason I always find it hard to go past chicken satays. Anyway these turned out to be ok, but the chicken wasn't exactly tender. There was plenty of sauce though, which was very tasty. Around the table we also had san choy bau with Chinese sausage ($8.40 for two) and vegetarian spring rolls ($4.40 for two). I didn't get to try any of the other entrees, but were told they were good.

There were some great sounding main courses on the menu, including lobster with ginger & shallot (market price), braised abalone with Chinese mushroom & Chinese vegetable ($49.90)and the more affordable crispy roast duck ($19.80).

We ordered about 7 main courses, which spun around the giant lazy Susan in the middle of the table. Why don't more restaurants have lazy Susans? They are perfect for sharing food in a big group. Anyway I'd picked the home made crackling roast pork ($19.50) mainly because the picture looked so good. It turned out to be excellent. It arrived exactly as it looked on the menu - thin slices of well cooked pork (which were still tender and moist) that had a great layer of crispy crackling on the top. It was so good I could have eaten this dish all night.

Other main courses that impressed the table were the Ma Po bean curd with no pork ($12.80) and the deep fried bean curd with salt & pepper ($11.80). The Ma Po bean curd was very good - the silken tofu was in small cubes, rather than the more crumbled style which I've had before.

Our meals finished with fortune cookies for all. Unfortunately, I lucked out on my fortune, which sadly wasn't "You will definitely win the lotto on Tuesday".

Service was friendly and helpful throughout the night. Considering the amount of food we ordered, our mains came out in good time. There was also plenty of steamed rice for all of us around the table.

After approaching Mandarin Palace with little expectation, I left the restaurant with a new place in the Valley that I'd be more than happy to visit again.

What does all this mean? Good, fresh & tasty Chinese food with interesting options outside the usual suspects.

food bling ratings
Food - Good
Service - Good
Ambience - Classier than your average Valley restaurant, but with tanks featuring live seafood
Value for Money - Good
Wine - Compact selection
Vegetarian - Good

Mandarin Palace
11 Duncan Street
Fortitude Valley 4006
P - 07 07 32523636
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Mandarin Palace on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Menulog Competition

Thanks to the good people at Menulog, food bling Brisbane is able to offer its first competition...

Menulog has recently launched an online home delivery service, and has helpfully donated a voucher to food bling, Brisbane. You can find their home delivery site here. Next time you can't be bothered whipping up your regular eight course degustation dinner, you can order online from various restaurants around Brisbane and have the meal delivered to your door.

So the reader out there that sends in the most imaginative or original suggestion for a new cafe/deli/restaurant for me to visit will pick up a $30 Menulog voucher. Please get your suggestions in by Sunday 22 March 2009. Entries can be sent in by using the comments form at the foot of the page. Good luck!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

South Bank Growers' Market

I've just checked my calendar and realised that the next South Bank Growers' Market is on tomorrow, 15 March 2009. Tomorrow's market will feature produce from the Granite Belt.

I went along to one of the Granite Belt market days at South Bank last year, and it was excellent. We ended up going home with fruit, wine, honey, chocolate and plenty of other great stuff.

If you're looking for something to do tomorrow morning, grab your green bags and head along to the growers' market. It's great to see the people of Brisbane supporting local suppliers, like those from the Granite Belt.

South Bank Growers' Market
Sunday 15 March 2009, 10am to 3pm
On the lawn between Stanley Street Plaza and Little Stanley Street
South Bank 4101
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Boylans' Vintage Soda Pop

Over the last year or so I've seen Boylans' Vintage Soda Pop at a few cafes around Brisbane. I hadn't actually bought one though until we saw the whole range at Sweethearts' lolly shop in Stafford City.

We went home with a 4 pack of their Creme, Root Beer, Black Cherry and Cane Cola flavours for $12.99. The drinks have been made by Boylans in the USA since 1891 and are packed in very cool, retro glass bottles.

So what do they taste like? The short answer is great! I know it sounds a bit twee, but they do actually taste exactly what you'd think soda tasted like 50 or so years ago. I was surprised just how different they tasted from most of the soft drinks we all come across in the supermarket.

The reason I picked black cherry is because I actually like Dr Peppers. Be warned, Boylans' black cherry is much less sweeter than Dr Peppers. It's tart, has a real sour cherry taste and a smell a bit like cough syrup. Definitely an acquired taste.

I really enjoyed the cane cola though. Sure it tasted like cola, but it had a bit of caramel flavour to it. It also lacked the harsh, artificial taste at the end that many mass produced colas seem to have.

The creme flavour was unlike anything I've ever tasted before. Originally I was thinking it would just be creaming soda, but it tasted exactly like a creme caramel in a glass. Definitely an interesting flavour, but a bit too sweet for my liking.

I didn't get to try the root beer, but it smelt like turbocharged sarsparilla.

After this first batch, I'll definitely be back to try some of the other flavours, which include ginger ale, orange, orange cream and grape.

Keep your eyes out for Boylans' soda on the next visit to your local cafe or deli - they're definitely worth a try.

Boylans Vintage Soda Pop
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Thursday, 12 March 2009

Coeliac Awareness Week

Next week is Coeliac Awareness Week (13-20 March). The Coeliac Society is conducting various events around Australia in order to raise general awareness of coeliac disease. For more information about coeliac disease, or the events going on next week, have a look at the Queensland Coeliac Society's website.

In order to do my bit for Coeliac Awareness Week, here is a detailed run down of just what coeliac disease is and why coeliacs (like me) are required to stick to a gluten-free diet:

Coeliac disease (pronounced seel-ee-ak) is a an autoimmune disease. Auto-immune means the body mistakenly produces antibodies that damage its own tissues. It is a permanent intestinal intolerance to dietary gluten. A number of serious health consequences can result if the condition is not diagnosed and treated properly.

In those with untreated coeliac disease the mucosa (lining) of the small bowel (intestine) is damaged: The tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel (villi) become inflamed and flattened. The function of the cells on villi is to break down and absorb nutrients in food. Through a microscope, the lining of the small bowel normally looks rather like shag-pile carpet, the villi making up the “pile”. The entire surface area of a healthy small bowel is comparable in size to that of a tennis court.

In those with untreated coeliac disease, the villi become inflamed and the bowel has a characteristic flat appearance (like a threadbare carpet). This is referred to as villous atrophy. The surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced (to the size of a table or less)which can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

What is the Cause?
In people with coeliac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, causing small bowel inflammation and damage. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.

Who gets Coeliac Disease?
People are born with a genetic predisposition to develop coeliac disease. They inherit a particular genetic make-up (HLA type) with the genes DQ2 and DQ8 being identified as the “coeliac genes”. Gene testing is presently available through pathology laboratories (by blood test or buccal swab). The gene test is useful for excluding coeliac disease.

The presence of HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8 is not helpful as a positive predictor of coeliac disease, as only 1 in 30 people (approximately) with these genes will have coeliac disease. The gene test cannot diagnose coeliac disease – only exclude it.

Environmental factors also play an important role in the development of coeliac disease.

A first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, child) of someone with coeliac disease has about a 10% chance of also having the disease. If one identical twin has coeliac disease, there is an approximate 70% chance that the other twin will also be affected (but not necessarily diagnosed at the same time). This highlights the role of both genetic and environmental factors in the development of coeliac disease. Coeliac disease affects Caucasians and west Asians. It is uncommon in the Oriental Asian and full-blood Australian Aboriginal populations.

Coeliac disease can also be associated with other autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, pernicious anaemia, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus. It has not been shown that there is a causative link, but having one genetic autoimmune disease increases your risk of having another.

How Common is the Condition?
Coeliac disease affects approximately 1 in 100 Australians. However 80% currently remain undiagnosed. This means that approximately 200,000 Australians have coeliac disease but don’t yet know it.

Can Coeliac Disease be cured?
People with coeliac disease remain sensitive to gluten throughout their life, so in this sense they are never cured. There is no correlation between symptoms and bowel damage, so even if asymptomatic (you have no symptoms), damage to the small bowel can still occur if gluten is ingested. Once gluten is removed from the diet, the small bowel lining steadily repairs and the absorption of nutrients from food returns to normal.

People with coeliac disease should remain otherwise healthy as long as they adhere to a diet free of gluten. Relapse occurs if gluten is reintroduced.

How is the Condition Recognised?
The underlying genetic predisposition to develop coeliac disease is present at birth. Coeliac disease was once considered to be a childhood condition, which only produced symptoms in very young children. It is now recognised that coeliac disease may be triggered at any time from infancy to senior years. Some infants become rapidly and severely ill when foods containing gluten are introduced into their diet; other children develop problems slowly over several years. Many have few or no problems during childhood but develop symptoms only as adults. In addition, the symptoms of coeliac disease can range from severe to minor or atypical and can even be clinically silent. Some symptoms may be confused with irritable bowel syndrome or a food intolerance, while others may be put down to stress, or getting older. As a consequence it may take some time before an accurate diagnosis is sought, or made.

Problems with Diagnosis
Since the symptoms of other conditions can closely mimic coeliac disease, correct diagnosis can only be made by showing that the bowel lining is damaged. Trialling a gluten free diet does not provide a diagnosis of coeliac disease. Subsequent investigations whilst on a gluten free diet will render false negative results (this includes both the serological testing [blood tests] and histological testing [biopsy]) and may delay the diagnosis of another condition with similar symptoms. If gluten has been excluded prior to testing, it will be necessary to reintroduce it to the diet at least six weeks prior to having the blood test and biopsy (the equivalent amount of gluten from four slices of standard bread daily for adults). If you think you may have coeliac disease, have a close relative with the condition, or have been treated for anaemia on previous occasions, it is important to discuss it with you doctor.

Coeliac blood tests are used for initial screening (“coeliac serology and IgA”). If the results are positive or your doctor feels further testing is warranted, a referral to a gastroenterologist will be necessary. The diagnosis must be confirmed by performing a gastroscopy (an endoscope is passed through the mouth into the small bowel) to collect tiny samples (biopsies) from the small bowel. These biopsies are studied under a microscope to determine if coeliac disease is present. A gastroscopy is done in a hospital or day-procedure centre while the patient is sedated (most people find it very straight forward). Taking small bowel biopsies is an essential part of diagnosing coeliac disease as the blood test alone is not definitive. A second biopsy is usually performed after twelve months on a gluten free diet to show that bowel repair has occurred.

“At risk” groups, such as first degree relatives and people with type 1 diabetes or other autoimmune conditions, should be screened for coeliac disease.

What are the Long Term Risks of Undiagnosed Coeliac Disease?
The long term consequences of coeliac disease are related to poor nutrition and malabsorption of nutrients. Untreated coeliac disease can lead to chronic poor health, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, depression and dental enamel defects.

There is also a small, but real, increased risk of certain forms of cancer such as lymphoma of the small bowel. In children, undiagnosed coeliac disease can cause lack of proper development, short stature and behavioral problems. Fortunately, timely diagnosis of coeliac disease and treatment with a gluten free diet can prevent or reverse many of these problems.

How is the Condition Treated?
Coeliac disease is treated by a lifelong gluten free diet. By removing the cause of the disease, this treatment allows abnormalities, particularly that of the small bowel lining, to recover. As long as the gluten free diet is strictly adhered to, problems arising from coeliac disease should not return. Once diagnosed, your doctor or dietitian may initially recommend the use of supplements to correct any deficiencies caused by coeliac disease. Some people may also have a transient intolerance to lactose (the sugar found in milk) at the time of diagnosis. In most cases this will resolve once the bowel has repaired with the gluten free diet. Speak to your doctor if you suspect you may be lactose intolerant. A dietitian will be able to guide you regarding suitable foods.

Notes about the Gluten Free Diet
Gluten is the rubbery and elastic protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Gluten is responsible for the cooking and baking properties of these grains. There are obvious foods which contain gluten e.g. bread, cakes and pasta, but there are also a whole range of ingredients within prepared and commercial foods which can come from a gluten source. To become “ingredient aware” is essential.

Initially the gluten free diet may seem overwhelming. With the information and support available with membership of The Coeliac Society, it will be come much easier. It is recommended you seek the guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian with experience in coeliac disease to help you manage your gluten free diet and ensure your diet is nutritionally balanced.

Labelling of Gluten Free Food
The Australian Food Standards Code requires that:
• Foods labelled as gluten free must contain no detectable gluten and no oats or malted gluten-containing cereals or their products;
• Foods labelled as low gluten must contain less than 200 parts per million of gluten (low gluten foods are rarely seen in Australia and are not recommended for those on a gluten free diet)
• Ingredients derived from gluten containing grains must always be declared on food labels.

The Coeliac Society
Adult coeliacs, parents of coeliac children and those with dermatitis herpetiformis have formed a Coeliac Society in each Australian state. These Societies provide support and information on the disease, the gluten free diet, ingredients, where to buy, cooking and recipes, overseas travel and education and research material. Specific resources for children requiring a gluten free diet are also available.

The source of the above information is a brochure called Coeliac Disease What is it?, which is available here on the Coeliac Society's website.

The Queensland Coeliac Society
10 Love Street
Spring Hill 4000
P - (07) 3839 5404
E -
W -

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Exchange Hotel

I used to eat lunch at the Exchange Hotel on a fairly regular basis, because I could get something relatively tasty for about $10-$15. Recently though the hotel has been closed while some fairly significant renovation work has been done.

I went back for lunch recently, to check out the renovations. The hotel certainly looks a lot better. It's much more modern looking, but thankfully some serious thought has gone into the renovations, unlike a lot of pub "modernisations" that have taken place around town. We sat in a dining area on the ground floor that was open to Charlotte street.

The menu is pretty compact, and certainly much shorter than it used to be. Under the heading Light Meals, you have options such as oysters ($18/6 or $33/dozen), an asparagus gruyere tart on a fig, rocket and Spanish onion salad ($15), salad of the house ($13), a steak sandwich ($15) or an oven baked Turkish bread with Italian meat, marinated "vege" and goat's cheese ($15).

Mains include fish and chips ($26 - grilled, crumbed or battered), sand crab omelette ($19), Tableland lamb on roast lemon potatoes with chorizo & saffron creme ($24) and a potato and sage pizza with pear, apple and blue cheese ($17). There are also a few steaks, if it's red meat you're after, ranging from $25 for the 200g petite eye to $36 for the 400g rib on the bone.

As it turned out, we all ordered the grilled fish and home made chips. The fish was very good. If I had to guess, I'd say it was snapper. It had been perfectly cooked, and was still lovely and tender. The chips were good too. However the fish and chips were also served with a little side salad, that I found very odd. It consisted of lettuce, tomato, olives and mandarin segments, amongst other things. I had one mouthful of mandarin and an olive, and it really wasn't a very enjoyable taste combination. It seemed to all of us to be a bit of a "lets throw whatever we've got in the kitchen" salad. As a result, all three of us enjoyed the great fish and chips, but left the side salad pretty much untouched.

If you're looking for something a bit less formal, there's also a tapas menu, which covers snacks like fried chorizo with marinated peppers ($12), Turkish bread with assorted dips ($14 - no mention of what the actual dips are) and fried olives ($12).

The Exchange Hotel now has a compact, but decent wine list. We ended up working our way through a few bottles of white wine over lunch. I was really impressed with the wine service. On both occasions the wine was served to us in a silver bucket, filled with ice and water. There was also good stemware, which is increasingly harder to find these days. Top marks for the wine service at the Exchange - someone has obviously put some serious effort into it.

After our enjoyable lunch, we headed up to the rooftop bar. Although it was a bit steamy up there, it was an interesting view of the city. It would be a great place to have a few drinks at night. There a few TV screens dotted around the bar, so you can keep in touch with any sport which might be happening at the time.

Based on the good lunch I had, the Exchange is a solid option for a quick CBD lunch. I'll certainly be heading back to try out a few more options from the menu. And if you're not there for lunch, order a few snacks from the tapas menu, head up to the rooftop bar and work your way through a couple of bottles of wine - it's the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.

The Exchange Hotel
131 Edward Street
Brisbane 4000
P - 07 3229 3522
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