Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Masterchef - Auditions

So Masterchef has finally started and of course I'm watching. I love food, hence this blog, and I love reality TV (trust me on this, I'll prove it later in the post). So when the two are combined, I'm salivating with my texting fingers poised at my mobile ready to vote.

So far, I have to say that I'm actually quite bored. My opinions are similar to that of Matt from Abstract Gourmet, who went and auditioned even. Here is what I think is wrong with the show so far

1) Like Matt, I found the sob stories all a bit too much. "Oh my mum had cancer and I cooked for her so that's why I like to cook." Somehow, these sob stories seem to be the norm in audition style reality shows now. Look at Australian Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. There were more tears in those shows than at Princess Diana's funeral. While watching Masterchef, I kept yelling (trust me, I really was yelling out loud) at the TV and saying, "what's up with all the sob stories". It was infuriating. Why can't they just show passionate people who like cooking but don't have some dramatic story. I guess that doesn't make good TV. I understand that the show needs some characters, but this was too much.

2) I haven't warmed to the host or the judges. I find Sarah Wilson's deliver to be so laboured. Couldn't they have found someone with a more natural prescence. I don't particularly hate the judges, nor do I like them. I loved George Calombaris when he was on Ready Steady Cook, where he was allowed to be himself and let his personality shine through. Here, he seems to be inhibited. Gary Mehigan, I don't really like or hate, and that's never a good thing in reality TV. It's better to be hated by viewers than have viewers not care. Matt Preston is again not mean, but I find him annoying.

3) Unlike Idol or Dance, we, the viewer can form our own opinions about whether they're good or not. With food, I just have to trust the judges. A dish may look great, but taste awful, how can I tell. I don't have smell-o-vision. Therefore, how do I know if the judges are being harsh or fair.

4) The editing and pace for these early audition rounds is really slow compared to other reality TV shows. For example, why do we need to waste time seeing the judges walk up to the plate, sample some, then walk back. Just edit out the walking and show then there already tasting it. Do we need to see every contestant wheel their trolley from the outside kitchen to the judging room, can't we just cut to them already in the room.

I'm going to keep watching and hope it gets better. I really hope they focus more on the food in coming episodes and the personalities of the people should naturally shine through if they are truly passionate about food and cooking.

To finish with some interesting info. I caught quite a few glimpses of Jackie from Eating With Jack, who I have met a few times. Jackie's accounts of the week up in Sydney are a definite must read. It paints a picture very different to that portrayed on the show. Joel from Global Gobbler was also on the show, and I met him once at the Melbourne Bloggers Meet Up recently.

And finally, to prove what a hardcore reality TV junkie I am. During episode two, with the auditions in Perth, there was an 18 year old guy called Robert who cut his fingers chopping herbs. George then helped him cut it. Robert made the cut (pardon the pun) and when he went outside, two girls hugged him. The girl on the left with brown hair was no other than Courtney from Make Me a Supermodel. See how obscure that show was and I still recognised her from the three short shots they showed of her. I told you I like reality TV. :-)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Trunk - Bar Menu

275 Exhibition Street
Melbourne 3000 Vic
Ph: 9663 7994

Thanh: Where should we go eat?
Dennis: I don't know, you choose.
Thanh: I don't know either, what cuisine do you feel like.
Dennis: Italian.
Thanh: Hmmm, where is a good Italian restaurant?
Dennis: Let's use Urbanspoon and let it decide.

So that's what we did. We shook the Urbanspoon app on my iPhone and let it pick out an Italian restaurant for us. We said that whatever came up first, we would go. So when Trunk came up, we decided to go there. We weren't really going in too blindly as I remember reading Agnes review of Trunk.

But anyway, neither of us had tried it and didn't even know where it was. So following the Urbanspoon links, we found out where it was and off we went.

We were greeted by this garden front restaurant/bar hidden away between office buildings. It was ultra ultra dark inside both the bar and restaurant. I really really dislike ultra dark restaurants. I could understand a bar being dark, but hate it for a restaurant. The Trunk space is rather strangely divided and it didn't feel like a bar or a restaurant. A request for a table came back negative but we were happy to eat from the bar menu.

So we got ourselves drinks and ordered Antipasto, Pizza and Chips to share. The Antipasto was very nice, with a mixture of pickled vegetables, fresh tomatoes with cheese, cured meats and bread. The chips were quite good, but tasted great with the garlic aioli.

The pizza was very good, a crispy based thin pizza with thin strips of prosciutto, cheese and basil. A very well executed pizza.

The meal was very nice and I would definitely go back to eat at the bar. I'd like to try the restaurant part as well next time. I might bring my own flashlight.

Trunk on Urbanspoon

Thai Taste

92-94 Johnston Street
Collingwood 3066 Vic
Ph: 9495 6694

Previously, if I wanted great cheap Thai food, the first thought turned to Ying Thai on Victoria Street. However, now there is a serious challenger, Thai Taste on Johnston Street.

Kin recommended Thai Taste as he had been there previously. He kept raving about the pork hock. I was thinking it didn't sound very traditionally Thai and that the food probably won't be so good. How wrong I was to be.

Thai Taste is a rather non-descript restaurant hiding away on the Collingwood end of Johnston Street. It was actually rather hard to find it as they did themselves no favour by having the wrong restaurant name displayed on upper most street signage. Once we did find it, we were greeted by a rather dark and dungy rectangular space separated by a wall into two areas. We saw everyone had a pitcher of Thai milk tea on their table so we got that too while deciding on our orders.

The menu, a tacky (physically and metaphorically) plastic double side lamented sheet provided a wealth of choice, some items displayed with photos. We actually decided to go with a lot of the house specials that had rather enticing photos that made our mouths water. It's strange that only cheaper Asian restaurants tend to have photos of the food. I wonder why it's not done in fine dining establishments for some items. It would help to ease the disappointment that sometimes comes with just reading a description. Anyway, I digress.

So we started with an amazingly fiery and tangy Green Papaya Salad. Thai food is so great with their salads. A combination of crunchy vegetables melded with even crunchier condiments like peanut and dried shrimp, lavished in the most addictively acidic spicy sauce you can imagine. This had us all gasping and grasping for more water, and then more salad. Thoroughly addictive and enjoyable.

The Soft Shell Crab in Sour Soup was also a house special and seen on almost every table. Beautiful golden pieces of battered soft shell crab was served in a metal pot bubbling over a flame. The sour soup housed an assortment of vegetables such as kang kung, carrots and onion. This dish worked very well with the contrasting flavours and really helped to whet the appetite.

The Fried Barramundi with Apple was again a great display of combining sweet, salty and spicy. The crisp barra skin housed the juicy soft flesh of the fish. The tart green apple combined with the salty spicy sauce to draw out so much flavour from the fish.

Finally, the masterpiece we had been hanging out for. The Fried Pork Hock was a heart attack waiting to happen but boy was it good. The extremely crispy skin was not hard to the point you couldn't chew it, and the gloriously gelatinous and unctuos fat inside the hock was insanely good. There was large amounts of fat with some meat. There was a dipping sauce but it tasted better just as is. Definitely a dish to share and not consume by yourself.

The only dish that wasn't a spectacular highlight like all the others was the Red Curry Chicken. We had wanted the red curry duck but there was no duck left. So instead, we settled on the chicken. It was clear this was the least favourable dish as it was too sweet in flavour and left till last by everyone.

Dessert was just simply durian served with stick rice, a perfect way to end a great meal.

Service, was typical of many cheaper Asian restaurants, serviceable without being good. The waitresses fulfilled our requests and were friendly enough but many things should have been done without asking.

The ambience was a buzz all night. The full restaurant had patrons happily chatting away. I really wished they would turn the lights brighter, but that's my personal pet peeve. There was some live music right at the end of the night playing in the background. The singer was doing very original covers of Western Pop music and was so good we thought it was a cd.

Overall, a fantastic restaurant serving delicious Thai food at a great price.

Overall Rating: 15/20, Food is excellent and great value for money.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Authentic Thai Taste on Urbanspoon

Brisbane Trip '09

I got the opportunity to go to Brisbane for 10 days for a business trip. I was working at Queensland University of Technology on particle testing. Whilst I was up there working, I did manage to squeeze in some sight seeing and eating of course.

First for some sights.

Views of Brisbane River.

Botanical gardens adjoing QUT and Queen Street Mall, the main shopping strip in Brisbane.

Chinatown and The Treasury Casino.

A wharf in South Brisbane looking back at the city and Southbank adjoining the city.

A "fierce" croc at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. If they poked and prodded that croc anymore, it would have been tender enough to throw on the BBQ.

Now to the food. I ate a lot of food during my stay there. Hey, work was paying. Most of it was surprisingly good. Brisbane actually has a great food culture there, nothing at all like the Gold Coast where I struggled to find a good pasta.

First off though, there was some food that was so bad that I just have to post about them.

Worst Three Thing I Ate In Brisbane

* Number 3 Worse Food - Chicken and Pesto Pasta from University Food Hall.
This was your average pasta, not good but still edible. Only a few hours later when I started to have stomach pains and threw up a few times did I regret buying any food from a university food hall. What was I thinking? All my years of training at uni should have taught me that no good ever comes from the university run food hall. When I asked the university staff I was working with, they said none of them ever ate from the food hall. Hahaha, if only I knew earlier. Instead they pointed me to the two university cafes, which did indeed produce very good food and smoothies.

* Number 2 Worse Food - Pizza from local pizza restaurant.
So even though the pasta from number 3 made me throw up, I still thought this pizza was worse. That's saying a lot. This pizza sounded so good on paper, proscuitto, goat's cheese and salami. How could you go wrong with those ingredients? How, just how. I'm still asking that. But the pizza had so much meat piled onto it that it was hard to cut through. The base was soggier than a wet Melbourne day. The salami was completely off and smelling it made me want to vomit. The cheese was more rubbery than chewing gum. And the proscuitto was so salty. Needless to say, I didn't eat any. I couldn't even send it back because it was a delivery from the local "gourmet" pizza shop and the driver had left.

* Number 1 Worse Food - Croc Attack Burger at Australia Zoo.
This burger was wrong on so many counts. The description sounded so good. A hand made pattie grilled, served with egg, bacon, beetroot, salad and chips. Hand made pattie my arse. The pattie was this congealed mess such that you couldn't actually see the meat fibres. The pattie was colder than Tilda Swinton's face. The egg was rubbery. I never knew that was possible. Again, cold egg with black marks all underneath it. And the bacon, not even cooked. The bun was extremely sweet. And the salad, who puts julienned carrots and shredded cheese with huge chunks of lettuce into a burger? And all of it was served with a side of alfafa sprouts and a wedge of orange. A complete WTF burger, it's more messed up than Tara Reid's surgically enhanced breasts. It was at moments like that where I wished there was a McDonalds around as their burgers are ten times better than that monstrosity which was the Australia Zoo burger. Shame on them.

Best Five Things I Had In Brisbane

Ok, after the tragedy of the worse foods, there was indeed so many good food. There were great food at the pubs, uni cafe, local restaurants and fine dining establishments. Here were some standouts.

* Number 5 Best Food - Snails from Belgian Beer Cafe
It's not often that you get to eat snails so when I see it, I order it. These snails were beautifully cooked in a classic garlic butter sauce. A great entree to whet the appetite for the next dish.

* Number 4 Best Food - Oysters from Sono
I'm a sucker for oysters and these beauties were perfection. They were freshly shucked and so full of flavour. Served with a light citrus soy sauce which was thoroughly intoxicating, I had this dish many times during the trip.

* Number 3 Best Food - Chips from Brett's Wharf
The humble chip, who knew it could taste so nice. I actually forgot to take a photo of it, as I was too busy eating it. The steak and lobster I had was amazing, but the chips were the standout of that restaurant. These fat hand cut chips fried and sprinkled with sea salt and served with a garlic aioli. It was so amazingly good as my friend said. He said he went there just to eat the chips sometimes, I would join him.

* Number 2 Best Food - Seared Kingfish Belly Sushi from Sono
I didn't think Sushi could get better than the seared salmon sushi at Shira Nui. I was to be proven wrong. I tried the seared salmon sushi at Sono, it was good but not as good as Shira Nui. But then, the seared kingfish belly sushi, oh my goodness, it was sushi heaven. It was just something intangible where the combination of the seared flavour with the fatty belly, the wasabi, the soy sauce and the vinegared rice that was pure bliss. I thought it might have been an aberration the first time I ate it so ate it three more times, each time equally good.

* Number 1 Best Food - Cherry Blossom Cake with Cherry Mousse and Jelly Served with Liquored Cherries and Cream from Sono
You might start to notice a pattern here, there was a lot of damn fine food at Sono. Despite the Seared Kingfish Belly Sushi being an amazing dish, I can't go past desserts. This cocotion was the special for March and I just happened to be able to sample it on my last day in Brisbane. It was cherry blossom flowers cooked in a sponge cake, with a cherry blossom mousse and a layer of cherry jelly on top. It was served with an assortment of flowers. A side dish of liquored cherries and cream was given. All the flavours just combined so amazingly well. The flavours of the cherry blossoms and flowers kept coming through, mixed with the contrasting textures, it was a party in your mouth. When eaten together with the cherries and cream, it gave another altogether fantastic burst of different flavours. A clear winner for me.

So that was my trip. I completed all my work, and in fact did more than required, while also enjoy some great culinary experiences. I would definitely go back to Brisbane again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bookings Or No Bookings, That Is The Question

The debate over whether a restaurant takes bookings or not has again resurfaced due to a torrent of new hip restaurants that don't take bookings but yet still managed to creat a lot of buzz amongst diners. I have waxed lyricals previously about restaurant bookings and their pros and cons.

My final verdict at the time was

So after weighing it all up, what's my final verdict. As much as I complain about it, I still want to be able to book at a restaurant. If I want to eat somewhere that night, I want to be guaranteed that I will eat there, unless there is some major disaster. I don't want to turn up and end up being disappointed, especially if it was a special occasion. No reservation restaurants have their place. They work well in crowded areas with lots of other restaurants I think. I wouldn't mind waiting for a particular restaurant with no booking, but if it took too long, I could just go to another restaurant close by that was available.

I still believe what I have written previously, and the latest article in The Age about no reservation restaurants back up what I thought, that no reservations work well for casual dining where there are a cluster of choices.

Some may see these no-reservations restaurants with their mostly youthful crowds as yet another sign of generation Y's inability to commit to anything, not even a restaurant. Yet it does seem that Melbourne's ever-widening embrace of more casual dining - and the fact inner-city restaurants and bars tend to gather in entertainment clusters - lends itself to a less structured night out.

Others have also blogged about the exact same issue, as all diners are faced with the decision of whether to wait for a table at a no reservation restaurant. Jackie wrote a post that linked to another opinion in The Sydney Morning Herald where Jordan Baker basically said that restaurants didn't take reservations because they can. The reply from Neil Perry to Baker's article shed some insight into how a restauranteur feels about the situation and gives another point of view.

It is all very interesting reading and I think at the end of the day, people's wallets speak the loudest. If by not taking reservations, a restaurants business decreases dramatically, I think they will change it. But as long as they are still able to attract patrons who are willing to wait, they can continue to not take bookings. I know that at times a no bookings policy works in my advantage and at other times it doesn't. Therefore, there is certainly room for restaurants without bookings in the Melbourne food scene. Now I just wish I could get into Cumulus Inc.

What are your opinions? Any horror no booking stories or positive experiences to share?