I read a review on TripAdvisor today and whilst the feedback was entirely honest in regards to the negatives, it also highlighted the things that were just excellent too but yet this was not the thing that stuck in my memory. Instead I will no doubt forget the pointers on dishes I want to try and be left recalling an anecdote about bad service. This got me thinking about why sometimes, it’s easy to focus on all that is challenging or controversial and not the simple things that make you happy.
I wrote a post not too long ago about the things in the food world that were grating on me at the time but I think it’s about time I did the opposite, so instead, here are some of my moments of joy, the standout dishes, the experiences I will never forget and will treasure forever.
Day 3 started with a hearty breakfast at The White Rabbit, a cool venue with an excellent brunch menu, fresh juices and very good coffee. Despite the array of weird and wonderful options, I couldn’t resist the lure of sourdough toast, poached eggs, avocado (swapped out instead of a mushroom), spinach halloumi topped with kale pesto= uber hipster but it was excellent. Jordan went for a duck sausage lasagne which seemed an unusual offering but was equally satisfying. After a lot of food the night before the fresh juices and strong coffee were much needed.
We spent the day walking around the botanical garden in glorious sunshine (a refreshing change from the day before) I was amazed to see an Ibis walking down the street and quickly discovered how common they really are. (I also thought I was very funny and sent a picture of one back home with a comment about Australia getting their pigeons wrong but nobody seemed that impressed)
The gardens are certainly worth a visit, it’s an easy walk with a lot of variety. We gawked at cacti and snapped photos of scary looking spiders whilst soaking up the sun. There are some incredibly viewpoints and we got some great photos of the Opera house and Harbour Bridge against clear blue skies. Sitting waterside for a cider it was a relief too see bottles of sunscreen lined up on the bar for much needed top ups.
We stopped off in a food court for a quick lunch and I went a bit crazy with my dim sum order before we headed back to the water and to the Barangaroo reserve. This was much more peaceful than the park swarming with sweaty runners and I enjoyed reading about it’s heritage and walking along the rocks trying to photograph some of the wading birds without scaring them off (not my most successful attempt on this occassion)
According to my phone we walked over 20k that day so we stopped off at a bar in Redfern for a drink on our way home. Craft beer has been popular in Australia (and let’s face It, everywhere else) for some time now so there are loads of places to choose from but cider remains in short supply. We hadn’t made dinner plans so after a chat with the staff we picked up a recommendation for a place near by that did ‘meats and bbq but not the American kind’ but more importantly a gin bar that was right on our doorstep!
Trusting the local intel we walked down back alleys and side streets until we found L.J’s Meats. It reminded me a lot of Buffalo & Rye in Birmingham but with a twist. The menu seemed pretty simple and service casual. We ordered what we thought would be a small starter to share of Blood Sausage served with pickled onions. It was served warm, packed with flavour and dotted with chunks of walnut throughout. Its pretty rich so the onions made a welcome addition. As we waited for our table to be cleared, and then realised that plates and cutlery are reused between courses we were presented with a platter of Loretta stuffed with fennel, smoked chorizo, potato gratin and a mountain of shaved fennel salad with peas and mint. Once again we regretted ordering a starter (although it was delicious) and set about tackling the mountain of food before us.
This is not the kind of place for the meat averse, whilst the menu does offer some veggie friendly options, the kitchen is open plan and this includes the preparation of all meats, midway through dinner a carcass was brought to the counter and broken down into it’s appropriate cuts. To me, of you are going to eat meat you should certainly be comfortable with this but it can make some squeamish. I’ve become a bit tired of meat heavy menus lately but this was a refreshing change, everything was lighter and didn’t have the over sauced, heavily spiced kind of flavour that is so popular. The gratin was pleasant enough but I favoured the fresh salad and loaded up on minty peas. For a suggestion from a stranger, it certainly turned out to be a good one.
Although slightly out of the city Redfern was the ideal place for us to stay, the commute was easy with excellent public transport but it was nice to come back to somewhere a little quieter so when we found out about the gin bar we couldn’t have been more pleased. Entering through plush curtains, the bar is full of mismatch vintage furniture, old pianos and dark corners. It has a speakeasy kind of feel and an impressive bottle collection. We took a table at the bar and chatted to the owner as he stood chopping cauliflower for home made pickle. He told us how to make our own tonic and walked us so through some of the more unusual drinks on offer. We have been to a lot of gin bars but this one stands out in both product and environment. This is also where, after discussing my current preferences, I discovered my favourite gin of the trip- Dry Wattleseed by IronBark distillery. A good run through the menu and we headed home for an early flight to Melbourne.
After a few days in Bangkok we hopped aboard yet another plane for an overnight flight and headed south.
Arriving at the airport we easily found our way by train to the Air Bnb we had boomed in the Redfern district, which is on the City Central train line so good for access to the hub of things. The Opal card (like Oyster) makes it easy to get around and the prices are comparable.
After dropping off our bags we went for a wander around to get a feel for the location, Redfern is a quiet,sleepy kind of place but good for commuting and with plenty of bars and coffee shops. We stopped at a bar for a drink in the beer garden only for me to accidentally order a bottle of cider that cost about £8…. it wasn’t even imported! As we had flown overnight but without sleep we grabbed some bread,cheese and cold meat from the local shop for a quick lunch before an afternoon nap- I felt pretty rough by this point and am unlikely to ever eat prawns for breakfast on an airplane again!-I needed the sleep.
In the evening we met up with a couple of Jordan’s friends down by the water at Birrunga. The restaurant is fairly new and shaped like a giant UFO, it’s an area undergoing a bit of a transformation and as such, there are now a huge round of waterfront eateries cashing in on the revival and sunny climes. It reminded me a bit of Portsmouth. Dinner was good and the menu varied and interesting, I played it safe in terms of my choices after feeling ill for most of the day but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try butter made with powdered crickets-giving it a slightly smoky flavour. We also had asparagus spears served with crispy hunter ants! They were delicious with a citrus kick and I would love to try them again.
After dinner we went in search of some drinks and ended up in The Barbershop (I think there actually is a Barbershop at the front of the building) This was a gin bar and hipster dream come true. The back bar featured a rolling ladder that reminded me of a Victorian sweet shop and vintage cabinets around the room held the excess bottles from the bulging shelves. Their range of spirits was impressive and the staff certainly knew their craft. We had already decided that we wanted to try Australia or NZ gins as they are harder to get at home and we were not disappointed. Well served and with an excellent soundtrack that included Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks I was in my element. Staff were well dressed in waistcoat and dickie bows (and well groomed too with some amazing moustaches on display) and had plenty of useful suggestions for us on what we may like to try. 1 drink quickly rolled into many but with reasonable pricing and a big selection it was perfect.
2017 is possibly the busiest and most enjoyable year I can recall. Whilst there are so many things that happened that I’ve no doubt forgotten them I decided to cover off the food and travel highlights first.
I’m going to attempt a 10 day blogging streak in the run up to Christmas, prepare for lots of festive chatter for the next few days as I deliberate my favourite parts of the season, what I’m eating, cooking or eagerly lusting to see under the tree on the big day.
I recently re-read ‘Eating for England’ by Nigel Slater, for no other reason than I wanted to indulge in a moment of nostalgia. It’s the kind of book you can whizz through quickly but gets your mind rolling back through time. With that in mind, I started jotting down a couple of my own memories and was surprised by how many of my memories had some kind of association with food. I will no doubt write more about this in the future but for now, here are a few of my favourite things..
Sitting in front of the electric fire with rocky bars letting the chocolate melt just enough for it to be warm but not dripping off.
Paxo- On a Sunday, we would go to my Nan’s for dinner. Everyone would pitch in with some aspect of dinner and my job was often to make the stuffing. This required little effort other than opening the packet of Paxo and mixing it with butter and water before pressing it into a glass dish to be cooked in the oven.
Watching the grill intently to see when our ‘Butter toast’ was ready, this was essentially a slice of buttered bread that went under the grill and was toasted on one side only. There was something very satisfying about biting into it and feeling soft, butter soaked bread against your bottom teeth as the top ones met the crisp toasted side.
Mom’s Spag Bol – This has evolved over the years but to begin with it was a cheap dinner that could conceal a wealth of vegetables that limited the amount of meat needed. My brother and I would sit at the dining room table chopping carrots, peeling mushrooms and trying to cut celery into even sizes. This not only occupied us for some time, but meant we learnt how to use a knife safely at a young age and looked forward to cooking. Eating the carrots as we went along we enjoyed browning the meat off stood on stools by the cooker, crumbling the oxo cube into the wok (we have always used a wok for this for some reason) and frying off the onions. We would cook this for several hours on a very low heat so that it turned into a dark, rich sauce with chunks of beef mince simmering within it. As we got older (and with more disposable income), the recipe developed and we added wine, balsamic vinegar and moved to a blend of both pork and beef mince with pancetta for saltiness. Everyone has their own version of this and I’m confident that many Italians would say this is not a traditional bolognaise sauce but it doesn’t matter- even now if my mom makes this she will make a couple of extra portions for me to take home. Without question, this is served with spaghetti, grated cheddar and a slice of garlic bread for scooping up the sauce.
Fried egg sandwiches – Whilst I haven’t eaten one of these for at least 10 years, as a child this was what my dad would make me if I was ill and off school. It was also probably one of the only things I would have with tomato sauce.
Egg-in-a-cup – Another simple meal but one I still make now, this is essentially boiled eggs crushed with butter,salt and pepper so that it forms a chunky, buttery paste. I have this with a couple of slices of toast.
Cheese on a plate- Cheap and cheerful and a clear indicator that I ate some questionably unhealthy things as a child. We had one of those ovens that had a grill above the hob so that if you put anything heavy on it, you would have to hold it in place to stop it from falling off and smashing on the floor. A favourite of my Dad’s, we would grate mild cheddar cheese onto a plate and grill it until it went crispy and brown around the edges and gooey in the middle. This needed to be removed from the grill with care as the plate would be steaming hot and there would be pools of fat ontop of the cheese just waiting to scald your hands. Once placed on the table, we would cut slices from it and eat it on a piece of bread and butter. This is one of the things that I just couldn’t stomach now.
Dairylea triangles (in the original form not the new wrapper that they now come in) There was a spell where different varieties were available and we had a bacon flavoured version.
Fettucine Alfredo- This was my go-to dinner of choice (carbs, I just love carbs..) during a period when we had microwave meals in the house as my mom worked a late evening job and this meant we could eat when we were hungry. This version was very peppery and came with a lot of creamy sauce which I would sometimes mop up with a slice of bread. It doesn’t matter where I eat this now, nothing quite matches up to my rose-tinted memory of eating this straight out of the waxy tub and burning my fingers on the steam as I peeled the film off the top.
Sausage Pitta’s- This was a budget dinner that we would often have when my Dad visited on a Wednesday. There was nothing fancy about this, we just toasted pitta breads, filled them with caramelised onions and had a plate of sausages on the middle of the table. I would always have Heinz barbecue sauce with mine, my dad would sometimes have chips with his.
Birthday Treats – One tradition that we still follow, is that on your birthday you get to choose what you have for dinner. For me, Chicken Satay with Long Grain and Wild rice was the ultimate treat – probably not that conventional for a 7 year old… We would make it with extra sauce because I liked a lot of peanuts. This would always be followed by the champion of all puddings – Black Forest Gateaux with some squirty cream. I still attest that the flavours of this are my favourite but as much as I loved the Sara Lee version I prefer a less mass-produced version now.
Hedgehog bread – In the world of Pinterest this is a bit more well-known now, but as kids it was always difficult to explain to people that we made our own bread at home that looked like hedgehogs.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli – unsurprisingly I went though a ‘no-vegetables’ phase yet no matter how much I protested about peas or sprouts I would always eat this, albeit it was a treat given how often it would be available at the green-grocers.
Findus Crispy Pancakes and Alphabites- Not all food memories are of things I would eat, for what seems like an unbelievably long time my brother would only eat Minced Beef Crispy pancakes and Alphabites with some tomato sauce. My memory is off him suspending a chunk of pancake covered in sauce on the end of his fork like a lollipop. I would eat this sometimes, but can’t say it was ever that exciting. This was during his ‘fussy eating’ phase where we had to remove all salt from the house because he would cover his food in it until it was white. I didn’t eat salt again until I was in my late 20’s and started getting cramp in my legs during exercise.
It’s quite a challenge starting out in a new venture, but equally it’s incredibly exciting to see ideas and day dreams materialise into something real, something tangible. I’ve always enjoyed writing but as the years have rolled on its something that has taken a backseat, with only a few editorial pieces popping up to support the latest promotional incentive at work. Not too long ago, a friend asked me to help out as mystery diner for a restaurant group they worked for on the basis that I lived locally and had always been quite vocal in my opinions that and the fact that I spent much of my time trawling the city for something new and exciting to eat. Whilst initially the idea of a free meal was exciting, I quickly realised that it was the experience that I enjoyed more, being able to apply a more critical lens to food, service and the associated surroundings helped me to better appreciate the difference between a good meal and a great one.
In the last two years I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot and eat in some truly spectacular restaurants, but whilst hitting the multi-starred big names forms much of the holiday planning, so does visiting tiny pop ups, street food markets and cooking classes. Every holiday or little trip results in coming home with a camera roll full of pictures and a head full of ideas for what we can try and cook next.
Whilst I am keen to review as many venues as I can, I’m also excited to share more about how we eat and the ethos behind it. Every day I read an article about food but it pains me to see how far removed they are from what is important- TASTE! Food and health trends are ever changing and it seems that the joy of food often gets lost in the midst of the ‘you are what you eat culture’ or the latest Instagram fad. Yes your rainbow coloured concoction looks cool- but what does it actually taste like? Is it even enjoyable or just a mechanism to gain those all-important extra ‘likes’? Social media instigated food trends and the diet industry are things I could write about for days so I’ll leave it there for now…
At home, the majority of our food is made from scratch with a handful of concessions because let’s face it- everyone has busy days. We eat fresh veg with every meal, don’t buy snacks and our only freezer contains raw meat, fish and ingredients (for some reason we always have a lot of frozen chillies) or things we have made ourselves such as stocks and sauces. Whilst we can make our own bread and pasta, we don’t always get time to do this so it can always be found in the cupboard but I don’t think the way we eat is unusual until we get visitors or someone is house sitting for us and bemoans the lack of a pizza cutter or that we don’t know how long chips take to cook in our oven. I plan to cover off more our day to day eating as we go along.
I take lots of photos of food, often- I don’t really mind what they look like or how they come out because they serve one purpose which is to act as a trigger for my memory, a direct link to a particular occasion, a smell, a new texture or flavour that I had just discovered. I have an abundance of photos of me balancing a drink on a knee whilst in a bar, a coffee shop or on a train, the photos are a reminder of a place, a time or a feeling when I just sat back to observe what was going on around me- Remembering to stop and slow things down is always a challenge so these moments re important to me. Some people will see trainers and bright leggings and a familiar logo with a misspelt name scrawled across a cup, but to me, it’s the first time I travelled to Namur on my own, ordered my coffee in French, attended my first ever practice for Team Belgium Roller Derby and started a year long journey of travelling there more times than I saw my own family. It’s the time that I went out and did something I was scared of, but that made me feel brave. Of all the reasons for me to start writing, that has been the most important one, not just to share the thoughts and experiences that I have, but to be able to look back on a photo or some words and revisit a time that I may otherwise of forgotten.