Sunday, August 25, 2013

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery - A Sweet Wonderland

The Yarra Valley is such a beautiful place. I love visiting the region for the great wines that it's famous for. There's also many great eateries to visit in the area. While it's a great place for adults, the kids might feel a bit left out. Now there's a new place that is sure to get every kids, and most adults, seal of approval. Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery is a mouthful to pronounce, and you probably won't be able to pronounce it when you've got a massive mouthful of chocolate and ice cream.

As the name suggests, it is a wonderland of chocolate and ice cream. There are so many types of chocolates to try, from chocolate truffles, to chocolates with animals. There are a lot of cool chocolate packaged gifts that will make great presents. I mean who doesn't need a metre long piece of chocolate. You could eat it, but also use it to poke your annoying family member on the other side of the couch. Win, win I say.

The place is definitely geared towards kids with the bright colours and really beautiful eye catching packaging. While I do like the flavoured chocolates and milk chocolates I tried, I tend to prefer dark chocolates, possibly with nuts. I can see how these chocolates will appeal to far more people who are used to eating milk chocolates and like sweeter chocolates. The quality of these milk chocolates are very good.

The ice creamery part of the shop offers a wide selection of tasty ice creams to eat. I loved the peanut brittle ice cream. So addictive.

The cafe serves typical simple cafe types meals like this steak sandwiches. They're good, but you know what I think, skip them and just indulge in desserts muahaha. Ok maybe eat a bit of savoury and then eat 3 desserts.

There are many great desserts, all involving chocolate. The chocolate fondue was huge and already pushed me near the edge. But I soldiered on like a trooper. The chocolate pizza was definitely super duper indulgent and I'd recommend that you have an extremely high tolerance to sweet foods to order this. I couldn't handle more than a very small slice.

The chocolate brownies were good, with a strong chocolate flavour. I'm biased and think my own chocolate brownies are better and recommend you make them. But if you can't be bothered to make them, these brownies from the shop are a good alternative.

I like to end on a nice cold, sweet note. The ice cream sundae was awesome, with so many elements. You may need to drag a few more people along if you want to try everything without succumbing to the serious sickness of "sugar overload". I was definitely affected by sugar overload.

Overall, the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery is a great place to stop family and friends. There are a variety of events always happening such as the hot chocolate festival currently on in August. It's a very relaxing place with lots of surrounding gardens for kids to play in while the adults eat inside. The hardest part is stopping kids, and maybe yourself, from indulging in too much chocolate and sugar and being jumping off the walls.

I attended as a guest of Yarra Valley Chocolaterie.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ube Macapuno Recipe - Amazing Filipino Purple Yam and Coconut Cake

Asian cuisine generally doesn't do good cakes or desserts. The usual sweet soups and seasonal fruit doesn't do it for me. I love desserts and cakes, and if I eat a cake, I want it to be sweet. Luckily there are some good Asian cakes, with my favourite being a Pandan chiffon with coconut pandan fudge. I can now add another Asian cake that I love to that list, an Ube Macapuno (purple yam with coconut frosting) cake. I first tried this cake at Dahon Tea Lounge in South Melbourne and I was completely hooked. The cake was fluffy and had this fragrant flavour. Then there was this sweet frosting and filling with slivers of coconut flesh. It was such a good cake that I knew I had to try and make it as I couldn't get to the shop to buy it all the time.

A quick search of the Internet and I found heaps of recipes. I decided to try out Heart of Mary's blog for her recipe. It seemed like lots of people had made her recipe with good results. Armed with the recipe, it was off to a Filipino shop to pick up the ingredients. I found all the ingredients I needed at Pilipino Sari Sari store in Springvale.

The cake, as I mentioned, is super delicious. It has a great texture and the most fragrant and intoxicating smell. The taste blends so well together and it's very moreish. You just can't stop eating it. It also looks very striking and would make a great celebration cake. I didn't add the extra purple food dye to give it an even brighter colour, or add the cake crumbs to the outside to give it a different look, but I think it still looks great.

The cake is extremely easy to make. Finding the ingredients is the hard part. Once that's done, it's a standard chiffon style cake with a cream cheese and whipped cream frosting. I've given some tips below to help ensure a great cake.

* If you can find fresh ube, you can grate that. Else I just used defrosted frozen ube and it tasted great still.

* I used cake flour as per the recipe but I have made chiffons before with plain flour and it's still very good so don't worry if you can't find cake flour. Cake flour is available in supermarkets with the name Pastry Flour or something like that.

* I used 800g/12 eggs sized eggs. I find large eggs are required for chiffons.

* The ube flavouring tastes like a mix between pandan and vanilla essence. If you can't find ube essence, vanilla would do but obviously the cake won't be as strong in ube flavour.

* When you make the meringue, keep beating. Even when you think the meringue is done, beat it some more until it's super stiff.

* Do not overbeat the wet cake batter as it can make the cake tougher.

* When mixing in the meringue to the wet cake batter, add 1/3 of the meringue and mix it in vigorously to lighten the batter. Then fold in the rest of the meringue and make sure the merginue is well incorporated. Don't be too scared about knocking out all the air because if you don't mix in the meringue well, the cake will be light on top and dense at the bottom.

* Line the base of the cake tin with baking paper (parchment paper) but don't line or grease the sides as the chiffon sticks to the tin and rises.

* I only made half the frosting as I didn't want to frost the sides of the cake. I find half the frosting enough for me but if you enjoy frosting, make the full amount. If you want to add crumbs to the outside of your frosted cake, just make a 3 layer cake and crumble up the 4th layer. If not, make a 4 layer cake.

Ube Macapuno Recipe
From Heart of Mary blog.
Recipe makes one 9 inch 4 layer cake or a 3 layer cake with crumbs on the outside.
Feeds 12.


For the chiffon cake:

Dry Ingredients
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients
7 egg yolks (from large eggs)
1/2 cup vegetable/canola oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup (about 100g) grated ube (purple yam)
1 teaspoon ube flavouring
1/2 teaspoon violet food powder or violet gel paste

7 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup caster sugar

For the frosting:

2 cups thickened cream
250g cream cheese softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 oz jar of macapuno (preserved coconut strips)



1. Preheat oven to 170C. Line two 9 inch round cake tins with baking paper. Do not grease sides.

2. In a large bowl, combine and mix well all the dry ingredients. Add in the wet ingredients and beat until smooth and well blended.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually add in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

4. Fold in egg white mixture into wet cake batter until very well combined. Divide batter equally into the two prepared pans.

4. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Invert pans onto a wire rack immediately and let cool completely. This will help the chiffon stay tall and high.

5. Carefully run a thin knife around the sides of pans to release cakes. Using a serrated knife, cut each cake in half horizontally. Set aside cake halves for assembly later.


Combine the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. When the mixture is smooth, slowly pour in the thickened cream and continue whipping until the cream can hold a stiff peak. Don't overbeat the frosting as you want it to still be a little bit soft rather than lumpy.

To assemble:

1. Drain some of the syrup from the macapuno. This ensures the cake doesn't get soggy and also to prevent the cake from becoming too sweet.

2. Place one of the cake layers cut side up and spread and level some frosting onto the cake layer until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Scatter 1/4 of the macapuno on top of the whipped cream.

3. Repeat for the other 3 layers of cake. When each layer is done, carefully place it over the previous layer.

4. If you wish to frost the sides of the cake, spread a layer of frosting over all four layers of cake.

Note: If you are adding cake crumbs on the sides of your cake, use the 4th layer of cake and crumble it in a food processor for fine crumbs or by hand for rougher crumbs. Carefully stick the crumbs onto the frosting around the cake.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Reviewing the Reviewer - Dubecki's Scathing Review of Vapiano

There's constant talk on the interwebs about how unprofessional bloggers are with their writing. I have to agree with that to an extent. Most bloggers are unprofessional in the sense we do it as a hobby and won't have the trained skills that a professional writer may possess in conveying the message in an eloquent and articulate manner. However, that does not mean that every professional writer is actually good at what they do. Like any field, there are the good, and the bad. On the side of good writing, locally I love Matt Preston's writing. He is able to transport me into his world without sound aloof and condescending. I love Jay Rayner's writing after Agnes introduced me to his work. His scathing reviews are written in a manner where the humour is so dominant that you don't finish reading it with a bitter taste in your mouth. In fact, sometimes I feel like visiting the restaurants just to compare whether his unusual description of something does fit with the item in question. Lastly, you can't go past the English in regards to English. My two favourite food writers are Rick Stein, the man of a thousand book references, and Nigella Lawson, the woman with a thousand descriptive terms. Both have such a wonderful grasp of the English language and are able to transport you into a wonderful landscape filled with enticing food. I know some people think Nigella is a bit over the top with her descriptions, but I find her wonderfully original and sometimesshe makes me think of the flavours and textures of food in a way that I didn't think of previously.

One local writer who I cannot tolerate at all is Larissa Dubecki. There have been countless reviews of hers that have made me want to throw something at the computer screen, such is the frustration I have with her use of words or my disagreement with her views. I just don't see eye to eye with her in regards to reviewing or food I suspect. I tend not to read her reviews by choice and only by chance should they be a place I want to go to or I didn't know she wrote the review. I think this blog post by Crikey called Critiquing a Food Critic perfectly sums up my opinions about her reviewing style.

I thought I'd have some fun as I happened to have dined at Vapiano last week and write a response to address Dubecki's latest review on Vapiano, which is scathing to say the least. It's more her choice of words that irked me rather than her opinions, as I actually agree with some of them.

Let me start the dissection.

Dubecki: It's known in the biz as a "famil" – a familiarisation exercise, aka a freebie jaunt in which a bunch of journalists are flown to, say, a Queensland resort, wined and dined and put up in some nice accommodation (please, don't worry about the minibar account), following which they will presumably write some nice things about what a nice place it is.

Despite declining repeated offers of a famil, I can tell you this: Melbourne's is the third Vapiano on home soil, the idea imported by an Australian businessman who planted his first flags in Queensland. Like McDonald's, which was once revolutionary in its own right, Vapiano offers the same menu whether in Berlin or Brisbane.

I Eat Blog: It's great that she's explained a famil to us and clearly shown her contempt for them, but I don't see how this is only relevant to this restaurant. Surely she has been invited by almost every restaurant in Melbourne on a famil to sample their wares. Why isn't she putting that in every review? Are restaurants not allowed to invite her to famils? She probably doesn't need a famil as the website comps, oh that's an industry term for complimentary ;-), the cost of her meals anyway.

I actually dined at Vapiano on a famil, so let me get that clear up front. I'm not defending them because of that. I'm not even defending them, as I actually agree with some of what Dubecki has said. It's just I don't find this fact relevant to her review so why has she added it is my question. Did something occur that she's mad about and is not revealing? Or is it all part of her story to show that any place who dares to invite her to a famil and she happens to dislike will feel the wrath of her pen? Many questions, no answers unfortunately.

On the point about a standardised menu, I'd hate to tell Dubecki but even good restaurants who have multiple shops have standardised menus. Is she not familiar with the restaurant game and people's expectations at a chain restaurant? Maybe a chain restaurant should just serve chains, that way we all know what to expect.

Dubecki: Naturally enough the practice has metastasised into the restaurant trade. Food writers and bloggers are routinely invited to pretend they need a new eatery's "concept" explained to them over a free dinner. It's difficult to imagine a restaurant so conceptual it needs a middleman to explain it – maybe if Ferran Adria decided to open a bacon bar on Mars – and sure enough it proves true with Vapiano, a 100-strong restaurant "concept" invented by a German McDonald's franchisee.

I Eat Blog: How did she know what they explained or didn't explain if she didn't attend the media famil? I don't see anything wrong with a restaurant explaining their "concept" and any other items they believe is worth mentioning. Not everyone is as knowledgeable as Dubecki obviously and knows everything already. Also, the contempt at which she holds the owners is rather staggering, given she doesn't know them. So someone owns a McDonald's, does that make them a bad restauranter automatically? I find her associations rather pitiful and unnecessary. It's a swipe for the sake of hurting and is not relevant at all. These are the types of things she writes that drives me bonkers (bonkers = insanely mad for the Dubecki fans out there).

Dubecki: Put it this way: whoever orders a caprese salad in winter deserves the insipid tomatoes that defy their vibrant-red looks to taste of precisely nothing. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

I Eat Blog: Puh-lease, with a capital P. Almost every restaurant around Melbourne would be serving tomatoes in some way. Excuse all of us ignoramuses for ordering a dish we think we might enjoy. So sow your own tomatoes and reap your own rewards Dubecki. What if the tomatoes you sow happen to be dull and flavourless as well? What then? OMG, end of the world. Quick, call the tomato emergency line.

Dubecki: The fitout is 21st-century canteen. The broad first-floor space is decked out with oak share tables and chairs, a distressed olive tree providing a centrepiece, the tables kitted out with pots of fresh herbs for the plucking. It's designed to drive the fresh message home, an illusion that ends with the antipasti, an impressive wooden paddle littered with foodstuffs that taste of little more than fridge.

Go to Rosa's Kitchen to see how good real Italian antipasti can be, as opposed to this depressing collection of overdone/undercooked roasted/marinated vegetables, personality-free meats, very ordinary slices of what's simply billed as "parmesan" and sun-dried tomatoes. Remember them?

I Eat Blog: I actually totally agree with her about the Antipasti Platter, but it's the manner in which she linked how she disliked the antipasti to imply nothing in the restaurant is fresh. Most places do use canned/jar items for their antipasti and shame on all of them. Vapiano is no different and I disliked nearly every item on the antipasti platter. Only the cheese was tasty. If Vapiano are to pride themselves on being fresh, they should drop the antipasti dish or actually source some good ingredients, preferrably making it themselves.

Yep, I remember sun-dried tomatoes and love them. What's your point Dubecki? Are you above sun-dried tomatoes with your condescending manner or are you just a tomoto freak who only likes fresh tomoatoes? I'm sensing she may have a tomato habit she needs looked at.

By the way, I still need to get to Rosa's Kitchen one day. *makes mental note to order tomatoes at Rosa's Kitchen*

Dubecki: The carpaccio comprises tissue-thin slices of mushy beef stuck to a fridge-cold plate. These are topped with raw slices of button mushroom and parmesan, an undressed lump of rocket and some squiggles of mildly tangy mayo.

I Eat Blog: I agree with her about this dish. The beef was mushier than a teenage girl (or guy, equality for all) at a One Direction concert and lacked any real flavour. The rocket was totally indecent and not dressed at all and the mayo would fail any drink driving test from the police. I agree about the flavours but it's just her turn of phrase that always has this knife sticking out of it.

Dubecki: The pasta's fresh. You can see them making it on an impressive industrial machine behind glass, and the clever induction cooktops using wok-like contraptions means it's ready in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, garlic and onion don't cook quite as fast. Crunch, crunch. The ravioli stuffed with bolognese paste are actually quite tasty, although the tomato cream sauce inexplicably contains carrot sticks and spring onion.

I Eat Blog: The pasta at Vapiano is really good and I loved the Carbonara, Ravioli and Salmon Spaghetti. The wok-like contraptions were....*drum roll*....woks, on topf of a concave induction cooktop. Side note, I totally want one of those concave induction cooktops. Can you imagine the heat you'd get from cooking in a wok from one of those babies. Awesome. Ok back on the main road now. Dubecki is totally nit picking about the garlic and onions as mine were cooked fine and had a great caramelised but not burnt flavour. Carrots in Bolognese is always a contention, but meh, it happens everywhere and the Carrot Association of Bologna (CAB) are really pushing to have carrots added as a core ingredient in Bolognese sauce. I've signed the petition and recommend you do the same.

Dubecki: The idea of topping a pizza with prosciutto, fig and honey – seasonality aside – quite appealed. The crust is chewy, the base cardboard-esque, the topping – including a thin smear of tomato sugo – desultory. It's $20.90. Pause to reflect that the same money would buy a pizza at Ladro.

I Eat Blog: The idea, mark that word, idea idea idea, appealed to Dubecki, but in the same sentence it was desultory. I had to that word, coz I'm not as au fait with the English language but it means lacking a plan. Doesn't that contradict the earlier idea? I have no idea, but I suspect it does. Someone with an English major please tell me.

I actually agree that the pizza idea is great and had a wonderful version of such a pizza at Ciao Bella in the Mornington Peninsula, but this one wasn't executed as well and was pretty good. I wouldn't say that the base tasted cardboard like though, having eaten cardboard at many restaurants before. Same goes for the other pizzas, pretty good but not worth the price. If the price was 20-25% cheaper, they would be competing in a different market and then it would be acceptable. As is, I don't think the pizzas are worth it.

Dubecki: A chip card replaces the need for waiters. You order from one of the red-bandana-wearing cooks, swipe your card, wait for the order and carry it back to your table. Expect to repeat the process at the bar, at the pizza counter (here you get a buzzer to summon you back when it's ready), antipasti counter, pasta counter etc.

The service is laughable. I don't just mean my own. Empty glasses pile up in between visits to the bar for water refills or another stab at the short, unremarkable wine list. Plates are cleared once – just before the pizza buzzer goes off, which is a nuisance. Off to find some replacements while my pal minds the bags. No chance of a good bitch session when we're so busy retrieving plates, waiting for food, tag-teaming across the joint.

I Eat Blog: I have to totally agree with how much I hate the swipe card payment system. It's really crazy to have to wait in multiple queues for different food items. I passed this feedback onto the restaurant manager and he said the system works well when you only want to order one item as you can be in a shorter queue. I agree with that. So maybe the way forward for Vapiano is to use that system at lunch when most likely people will be on a lunch break and only ordering one dish for themselves. However, for dinner service, they should switch to a centralised ordering system where you can then walk away and come back when your order is ready, or have table service. I can't see too many groups of people ordering just one type of food. I wonder how the system fares in the other restaurants in other states? Do people just get used to it or it still causes problems? Anyone know?

I also found the flow of the meal rather interrupted with the need to go grab different foods at different times. Vapiano really need to think about the purpose of people going to their restaurant, and one main driver for most people is to chat with their friends. By the time you get all your food and have settled down, 45-60 minutes may have passed, which means you've used up half your dinner time not talking to your friends.

Oh don't worry Dubecki, you've had your bitch session, it's written all over the review. Maybe that's what got her so upset, that she had to fetch her own food and didn't have time to bitch about things?

Dubecki: By our last sortie to the bar for a set cheesecake coated in a lurid yellow layer of medicinal-tasting lemon substance, it's perfectly clear Vapiano is just one big conversation interruption. In our Italian-hearted town, you can do so much better than eating here. But if eat here you must, make sure it's with people you don't like.

I Eat Blog: I actually rather liked the desserts here. The cheesecake was ok, but the chocolate cake and tiramisu were really good. If she had just written about the cheesecake, I wouldn't mind, but the "...if eat here you must, make sure it's with people you don't like" pfftttt. She's so clever with her funny backhands. Even her final summary of the worst bit, "everything else" is such a swipe. She wrote herself that the pasta is good. So how can that be everything? Maybe she also needs to consult more.

And that my friends, concludes my review of the reviewer. My hatred of Dubecki's writing only ever deepens and my respect for even her professionalism is well and truly down the drain. If she had actually focused on the restaurant as opposed to using this forum to vent whatever anger she had, I'd have respected that. Vapiano is not the best place ever, nor is it the worst. There are some major issues in my mind, being the payment and ordering system. Aside from that, the food is generally pretty good, with the pastas a real highlight for me. Would I go back, yes for a quick meal of just pasta but I wouldn't make it a place to dine with a large group as the ordering system doesn't function the way I want it too.