Creative cuisine #Coya #cookbook

Celebrated the launch of Ashraf Saleh’s new cookbook this evening.

The book is a lovely reflection of the creative plating and innovative flavours inspired by French and Middle Eastern cuisine that Chef Saleh whips up at his restaurant Coya in Cromer, north of Sydney.

Good recipes to try at home as well. Ashraf also offers cooking classes at the restaurant. Checkout their website for specially themed nights and classes https://www.coyacromer.com.au

Here’s a link to my review of Coya last year. Some of the dishes we tried then are featured in the new cookbook.

https://freespiritfood.net/2019/03/02/ashraf-cooks-up-a-storm-at-coya-restaurant-cromer-sydney/

Eggplant, anchovy and capsicum #pizza with #basil #veggies

Haven’t made pizza for ages but was inspired by my visit to the Entertainment Quarter markets in Centennial Park in Sydney this morning.

Brought home a beautiful haul of fresh, organic vegetables and thought an (almost) vegetarian pizza as a unique take for football finals food would be a nice addition to the usual sausage rolls and meat pies served at this time of the year at parties around the country. Still pizza though so figure it fits into the genre!

My basket of goodies from the markets this morning.

I started with the pizza dough for the base so it could “prove” for an hour while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

Pizza is fun to make and is so good when you make it all from scratch.

Prep time: 1 hour cooking time: 15 minutes

Pizza base

Ingredients:

2 and 2/3 cups of plain flour

1 cup lukewarm water

7g (1 sachet) dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1.5 tsps salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Method:

Whisk yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes until yeast begins to froth.

Mix flour and salt and place in a mixing bowl.

Make a well in the centre of the flour, add frothy yeast mixture, and oil and mix using a cutting motion using a round edge knife or metal spatula.

When mixture starts to come together, quickly knead on a lightly floured surface for 2 minutes. Should be a lovely smooth blob with a slight elasticity to it.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place dough in it, cover with glad wrap/cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour to “prove” and double in size.

Sauce for base

ingredients

2 small ripe tomatoes finely diced

1/2 onion diced finely

3 cloves of garlic crushed

1 tsp mixed herbs

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

2 tablespoons tomato sauce (I used an equal mix of tomato and sriracha sauce)

1 cup water

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Heat oil in pan over medium heat and add garlic and sauté until just fragrant, add onions and cook gently until transparent, then add mixed herbs, salt, pepper, tomato sauce, chilli flakes and white wine and simmer about 5 minutes until wine evaporates, then add water and simmer about 20 minutes until sauce is thickened and tomatoes have softened and created a nice sauce, add more water if necessary to cook more for tomatoes to break up. set aside to cool.

Topping

Ingredients

1 medium eggplant

1 whole red capsicum

4 anchovy fillets

1/2 onion sliced very thinly

8-10 small marinated green olives

Grated mozzarella

Cherry size bocconcini balls

Preparation

Capsicum

Turn on your grill/oven to 250 degrees Celsius on the grill setting. Line a small baking tray with baking paper, prick the capsicum with a fork in a few spots to allow air to escape, place on baking tray and roast in oven until skin is totally blackened…about 25 minutes or so. Remove from oven and immediately place in a plastic bag and knot the top. Set aside to cool, the skin will easily peel off when you are ready. Peel off skin, remove core and seeds, slice into thin strips and set aside.

Eggplant

Slice eggplant thinly and cover with salt and rest for 30 minutes or so, this will remove he moisture and stop the eggplant form discolouring. After minutes, drain away liquid, pat dry and pan fry with olive oil until golden brown, place on kitchen paper towel to drain off excess oil and set aside.

Olives

Slice into smaller pieces, removing pits if necessary.

Onion

Slice thinly and set aside.

Bocconcini

Slice 6 cherry bocconcini balls into 4 rounds and set aside

TURN ON OVEN TO PRE-HEAT GRILL to 250 degrees Celsius

ASSEMBLY:

Roll out half the pizza dough on a lightly floured surface to your desired size and thickness. Remember the dough will rise a bit in the oven. Lightly flour your pizza pan or baking tray and place your pizza base on that. (You can freeze the other half to use another time)

Spread your cooled tomato sauce over the base.

Sprinkle a layer of grated mozzarella sparsely or not so sparsely (up to you) over the tomato sauce, then place eggplant slices evenly around the base, add s shreds of the anchovy fillets, capsicum, raw sliced onion, olives and bocconcini over the base. Add another very light sprinkle of mozzarella.

Cook under 250 degree grill, lowering heat slightly if top looks like burning, lightly cover with foil if necessary to low base to cook and crisp up.

Remove from oven after 15 minutes, scatter with fresh basil leaves and allow to sit for a few minutes. Ready for devouring!

Shedding new light on modern Australian dining #Lamshed #canberra

Brilliant dinner at Lamshed in Canberra on Friday night. Waiter suggested AUD$45pp shared plates but we got to choose what we wanted from the menu.

Started with fennel cured kingfish with orange, tarragon and lightly pickled fennel. The combination of flavours was perfect. This was followed by Sweet potato “schnitzel” with tzatziki…the sweet potato was crumbs and deep fried but the cool yoghurt cucumber tzatziki made it all feel healthy and fresh!

The wine list is excellent and we enjoyed a beautiful Rose and moving to an Albariño as we progressed through the various dishes.

One of the specials was the slow cooked lamb neck perfectly spiced with what tasted like all-spice and wrapped into cabbage rolls and garnished with dill. Another special was pan-fried fish of the day with a sweet pea puréed sauce, peas and pea tendrils.

The eggplant tempura with white miso was divine as was the the pressed oxtail, celeriac and fregola.

Every course was an imaginative combination of ingredients and flavours delivering an overall excellent dining experience.

We finished the meal with cheese and a bottle of 2015 Campbell’s of Rutherglen Durif.

The restaurant that is in Yarralumla is minimalist but warm and the open kitchen adds a buzz of activity and atmosphere to the dining room.

We went with a party of 6 which was great for trying lots of dishes.

Traditional fare with style @ La Taberna Das Rua Flores #lisbon

We were staying in Bairro Alto in Lisbon which is now a pretty touristy part of town, but peppered with lots of great bars and restaurants.

I had read that Taberna Da Rua Das Flores was a small but very popular restaurant serving traditional Portuguese fare in an atmospheric narrow terrace just near Lago Chiado. We arrived about 9.30pm and put our names down for the first available table which we were told would be about an hour later. When in Lisbon, plan to eat late!!

We wandered over the road to Palacio Chiado, a fabulous restaurant and bar in a converted palace. We ate freshly shucked oysters and had a few drinks as a pre-cursor to dinner.

When we wandered back over to the Taberna, we were invited to sit on the stairs inside and contemplate the blackboard menu with the daily specials all written in Portuguese while we waited another 15 minutes or so for our table. Even though it was about 10.45pm by now the restaurant was still hopping.

The waiter helped us understand the menu and we ordered grilled prawns, the tomato salad featuring multiple different types of delicious tomatoes and pork with onions and coriander.

Dinner kicked off in traditional style with bread and olives and we ordered a bottle of Vale Da Capucha Fossil 2016 organic red wine. Vale Da Capucha is a winery on the Atlantic coast near Lisbon. It was very nice.

In fact the entire dinner was lovely and we really felt like we had experienced a traditional Portuguese Taberna. See below the description of the restaurant with more details from the Lisboa Cool website.

And with the bill, came 2 complimentary glasses of Ginja, Portuguese cherry liquer to apologise for the lengthy wait! They had apparently unfortunately run out of the chocolate cups that the liquer is served in but it was delicious anyway.

(From Wikipedia: Ginjinha or simply Ginja, is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherry, Prunus cerasus austera, the Morello cherry) in alcohol (aguardente is used) and adding sugar together with other ingredients.)

“The decor is reminiscent of old taverns and the menu, which is surprisingly presented to each table on a giant blackboard, displays the daily dishes/snacks. The selection refers to snacks of yesterday, genuinely Portuguese, from the north to the south of the country, covering our most typical food, but with a very simple contemporary twist.

The house wine is served in low glasses, the lemonade according to Portuguese tradition, and the snacks are always split up, after all, the Portuguese like to share! 

The highlight goes to the clams, very tasty, as well as the fresh tuna in sesame, topped off with a chocolate mousse with cherry and liquor dessert, which together, makes a great combination. Never count on the same dish: dishes are made with whatever is fresh that day, and are generally guided by the chef’s taste and inspiration.

Here you can only pay in cash, so forget the credit card, just like in old Lisbon!” From Lisboa Cool website

Beautiful Belcanto: taste sensations, beyond expectations #2michelinstar #lisbon #joseavillez

We went to Belcanto on our first night in Lisbon as a special 50th birthday treat for me, gifted by generous friends.

We had read all the rave reviews and arrived with very high expectations, all of which were well and truly exceeded. I have tried to capture the spirit of the restaurant, the atmosphere and the taste sensations here but it is not easy to do.

We arrived at the low key entrance and were warmly greeted and quickly seated by friendly staff. We instantly felt welcomed and relaxed.

The restaurant itself was a quick 5 minute walk from the apartment we were staying in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon, an area known for it’s cafes and restaurants.

It is in a beautifully renovated building and reflects an upmarket, elegant but relaxed vibe. The colour scheme is subdued but brought to life with splashes of colour from strategically placed flowers and plants. The tables are set without cutlery with napkins elegantly draped off the tables. The lighting is perfect creating a warm ambience without being dark.

According to a story I read in http://www.wbpstars.com/belcanto.html: “The original Belcanto restaurant was opened in 1958. The name Belcanto derives from the opera style and the famous national opera house in Lisbon is located only a few metres from the restaurant. José Avillez took over the restaurant in 2012 and totally renovated it again in 2016. Today, the interior of restaurant Belcanto is bright, combining lots of wood, green chairs, and luxurious elements.

The Chef Jose Avillez is obviously now world renowned having gained his first Michelin star just 18 months after taking over Belcanto. He trained at El Bulli and according to those who know the Belcanto menu features techniques reminiscent of that famed establishment.

It was great to be able to choose from the a la carte menu, because we knew the tasting menus would be beyond our appetites and budgets! We were so glad we did because even with us just choosing an entree and main each, we were treated to a series of serious amuse bouche (surprises as our charming and playful waiter Joao put it).

We started proceedings with a glass of beautifulPortuguese sparkling wine as we contemplated our menu choices.

We then began our Belcanto experience with the arrival of our first surprise – a small bao style sweet fluffy steamed pastry bun with a delicious salty fish filling reminiscent of the traditional Portuguese sardines paste but worlds away! The tiny bun is served on a plaster cast of the Chef Jose Avillez’s Hand, a symbolic gesture of his offering to his guests. Nice touch.

This was accompanied by an inverted dry martini: the liquid is olive juice and the “olive” is a sphere of gin which just dissolves in your mouth leaving you knowing you have eaten an olive but not quite sure where it went! The combination of ingredients, tastes and sensations of this amuse bouche sets the tone for the rest of the meal and the surprises along the way.

This was followed by a light cherry gazpacho, accompanied by treats in a number of forms including fake cherries filled with a cummin spiced soft cheese, and avocado tempura! My descriptions cannot truly describe the taste sensations or ingredients used. Needless to say it was a delicious combination, as was the divine sardine fillet with tomato flavoured “snow”, smoked eggplant topped with rosemary ash. In our books we were up to course 3, then the bread arrived with 3 types of butter – including rosemary, tomato and normal.

Our palettes and appetites were certainly ready for our menu choices, which included famed “Garden of the goose that laid the golden egg” and European lobster with caviar, marrow, spinach and a white bean purée.

The golden egg actually uses edible gold leaf to encase a slow-cooked egg and is surrounded with crunchy breadcrumbs and mushrooms.

For mains we enjoyed the Suckling Pig with Sarapetel (meat and offal in a vinegary sauce), soufflés potatoes, a fave bean stew with orange peel purée and a peppercorn sauce and Hay-roasted squab (cooked medium rare) with a zuchinni flower filled with foie bras with roasted eggplant and a hazelnut and cinnamon sauce. Each mouthful of our mains delivered flavour, taste and texture of new dimensions. Air filled potato soufflé puffs, squab dissolving with tenderness, crispy pork encasing tender pork, and perfectly spiced sauces accompanying it all.

We had already decided that this was the best meal we had, had in our lives and that every accolade and very Michelin star earned by Belcanto was very well deserved before we even encountered the absolute stand-out of the night – dessert!

Of course, our jovial Head waiter Joao and his band of friends who were looking after us with great service, wine recommendations, jokes and stories (like trying to convince us the squab had been shot by them in the adjoining square) revelled in presenting another surprise in the form of a tantalising palate cleanser of sorbet before presenting the piece de resistance, the renowned Mandarin dessert.

Here’s a description of the making of the Mandarin dessert which explains it much better thanI can: “The dessert with mandarin is exceptional in terms of flavours and experience. It derives from a childhood memory from the chef where children went searching for mandarins that felt from the trees. At Belcanto, the mandarin is a reconstruction filled with mandarin foam, on a custard of mandarin, and accompanied with a sorbet of mandarin. A crumble of mushrooms finishes the dish and refers to the earth where the mandarins were found. In his kitchen José Avillez is assisted by his right hand Head Chef David Jesus and a driven, international team. The staff works dedicated and in utmost concentration in the kitchen. The fine wines at Belcanto are superb and the perfect accompaniment of the dishes coming out of the kitchen.” And a link to their story on Belcanto http://www.wbpstars.com/belcanto.html

It was a divine end to an absolutely stunning dinner…. a series of dining moments that seem to transcend each other as the dinner progresses. What made it truly special was the fun, playful but utterly professional service which ensures a truly enjoyable evening without the expected stuffiness or snobiness of a restaurant of this world class calibre. Also, all the generous surprises along the way gave us an insight into the gastronomical techniques that one would normally expect only from a degustation menu.

It will be a night we will remember for the rest of our lives and for this the cost was well worth it for a special occasion as it was.

Here’s a link to an article on Jose Avillez and Belcanto https://www.foodandwinegazette.com/8728 which you might enjoy as well.

If you are heading to Lisbon, then go to http://www.Belcanto.pt now and book in for a truly memorable evening.

Tredwells – British food at its best #coventgarden #pretheatre

We chose Tredwells for a two course pre-theatre dinner before heading to the Garrick Theatre to see John Malkovich live in stage in the new play Bitter Wheat.

Perfectly situated in the heart of Covent Garden it is a Marcus Wareing restaurant and winner of AA’s London Restaurant of the Year the £25 pre-theatre dinner is great value for the standard of the food on offer.

According to their website: “Tredwells showcases the very best in British seasonal produce developed by Chef Patron, Chantelle Nicholson.”

And certainly we enjoyed the interesting take and presentation on classics such as brandade with fresh broadbeans and smoked peas with foam, pork croquette with cauliflower Picadilly, and grilled lamb chops with beetroot and tahini. The broccoli on the side with almonds and capers was also delicious!

Here’s a link to their website:

https://www.tredwells.com/#theatre-menu