Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Breakfast at Bill's place

One thing led to another last weekend and we ended up on Youtube.  We ended up on Youtube watching, no that’s not quite correct, watching and singing, Ian Moss’s all time Australian pub rock classic, “Tucker’s Daughter” (1989).

My first innate reaction was to sing louder.  My second was to be thankful I wasn’t the outback daughter of Ole Man Tucker and the object of Ian’s affection.  My third was to set off a multimedia juke box of classic 80’s and 90’s Australian tunes whilst debating: Johnny Diesel’s greatest hit? “Right on the Tip of my Tongue” or “Crying Shame”, discuss.  

Dream Boat Retrospective - Johnny Diesel despite torn off denim sleeves and subsequent identity crisis
Unless you are a foreign member of the Ian Moss fan club or an Australian descending through the 25-40 year old age bracket, you’re probably about as lost as my British friend Jo was while this archive of antipodeon chart toppers played out.  Jo understands that we didn’t attend Erinsborough High, that we call shrimps prawns and that pants aren’t pants they’re undies. But I am fairly sure she didn’t understand why we still, after 20 years, know every word to Darryl Braithwaite’s “One Summer”.  And just who is this Darryl Braithwaite anyway?!?

Contrary to our play list, I was glad I’d crafted a menu for the night that displayed no consistent cultural reference.  After fresh ricotta, Manuka honey and toasted walnuts we followed with a Way to Decadent in a Good Way Rabbit and Pork Lasagne. But it was finally ending on the left-field British high of sticky toffee pudding that gave Jo a brief caramel and culturally familiar reprieve.  We also had to stop singing during dessert as it’s incredibly hard to consume pudding, sauce and ice cream whilst effectively using an air-mic. 

While I’ve been assured Jo did have a great time at dinner (and probably afterwards at our expense recounting our unselfconscious antics to her more civilised British friends) the medium of nostalgic mullet anthems highlighted one of the many or few fissures diverging the British and Australian experience.   This sometimes-cultural divide between we convicts (of which I’ll erroneously include myself despite being first generation Australian) and The Motherlanders appeared before me again a few days later. But this time, it was personal.  

Ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter
While being served an exceptionally tasty butter-rich bacon-crispy plate of breakfast happiness my ears were forced to endure this statement: “Avocado has no place on a breakfast plate.  It’s just wrong!” 

Now hold on a minute Mr!  Avocado is what you say? Why you little [fist raised]….and it was at about that point of incredulousness that I got distracted by the crispy crispy salty bacon and lost my train of thought entirely…and then I was back:  Avocado is the number one draft pick for breakfast plate side orders for 9 out of 10 Australian diners.  That statistic in no way represents thorough or un-bias research but it was as true as it needed to be at the time before I got distracted by the creamy creamy buttery eggs…and then I was back: Avocado makes a breakfast plate, it’s the perfect duvet to a bacon, the greatest spread on sour dough toast, the perfect fresh substitute for over-cooked spinach or slippery slimy button mushrooms which are the eternally sad side-kicks of the core English breakfast characters. Avocado, it’s just right!

Unfortunately, no avocados were harmed in the making of this breakfast bun
I could swiftly see I wasn’t going to sway any voters with my New World argument for the monosaturated monolith so we entered a social treaty whereby the purveyor of that delicious British breakfast accepted the existence of, without agreeing with, my culinary dissent and we both returned to the bacon on which we very happily agreed.

After this polling failure you can imagine my joy when the long awaited opening of Bill Granger’s only European venture, Granger & Co (175 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2SB,, +44 20 7229 9111) came to fruition around the corner from my home here in Notting Hill.  Now Bill, he’s a man who understands the avocado.  In fact, it’s his number one side offering for eggs or toast.  Oh, and look at that, it’s his number two side for eggs or toast too – avocado salsa.  I’ll have both thanks Bill – no mushrooms, no spinach for me please.

The Full Aussie Breakfast: How did those pesky mushrooms get on there? 
The scrambled eggs at Granger & Co are super light and not at all too rich (there could be an argument for or against this state of affairs, but let’s carry on), the bacon is incredible, the breakfast plates loaded with full Aussie goodness and not a baked bean in sight. The ricotta hot cakes are just like Sydney…hang on a second…the whole place is just like Sydney.  The tables, the staff, the menu, the huge windows…should I be judging my own lack of originality in enjoying this replica establishment as much as I do? I am really enjoying it and judging at the same time. But mostly I’m enjoying.

Judging AND stirring as demonstrated by my more competent friend
Looking around, the dining room is packed. The wait for a table is over an hour and the confusing sunshine outside is offering those smug people seated in the window a lame excuse to inappropriately wear their designer frames inside. I detest them, but am too preoccupied trying to stir the Callebaut chocolate chips through my hot chocolate to care. I can’t judge and stir at the same time.

The bustling hum of the largely Australia via Nottinghill crowd is broken only by the intermittent steam of the coffee machine, the odd squawk of a Queensland ex-pat’s laughter or the conga line theme song rolling through my head: “I love av-o-ca-do! I love av-o-c-a-do! Ah dah dah, dah dah, dah dah”. 

Avocado and Breakfast: Best friends for ever xo xo
I haven’t been back yet for lunch or dinner service but the menu looks like a solid Bill-style offering of tasty BBQ and casual fragrant mains. Chilli pork ribs, whole baked fish, crispy duck with plum sauce.  No big surprises, nothing avant-garde but plenty of trouble choosing. 

I still think Peter Gordon's Providores serves up the best breakfast meets brunch in the whole of London.  I’ll also eternally love any breakfast offering me bacon and butter in perfect excessive harmony. Who knows if I’ll ever convince the avocado disbelievers out there that Granger & Co is worth the long wait for a breakfast table adrift a sea of Ralph Lauren? But it’s the simple good food and effortless Australian style of Granger & Co which just made me and Tucker’s daughter smile on that sunny Saturday morning…but please, you in the window, take those sunglasses off!!  


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mustard flares and the eating dress

I returned to the kitchen last Sunday.  It’s been a while.  In fact a really long while.  And just to be clear, this isn’t a smirk-ridden attempt to analogise the kitchen and the bedroom…in the sexy time way…I actually mean the kitchen.

It’s funny how, for someone who thinks about food and eating more than any other subject or act, life has kept me outside my favourite place for so long. I wasn’t totally abstinent, there were a few flings here and there with meaningless pastas and mid week pull togethers.  But proper kitchen time, a bench full of ingredients, hands itching to play and cupboards full of pots, pans and contraptions destined for experimentation – Sunday was proper, fun, sexy cooking time.  I’ve really missed it.

Amuse bouche of cress soup and egg yolk...not loving the styling, but super tasty!
For some weeks now the closest I’ve come to a kitchen is a big family feast at the Chef’s Table at my local (well, loosely local) pub – The Mall Tavern in Nottinghill (71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill, London, W8 4RU). I find this place classic, deeply stained and lightly exquisite in the evening (in a waist coat and pipe kind of way) so to call it just a local doesn’t seem quite fair. But then again it’s calm and warm, a wooden pub which makes me feel like I belong nestled up in the leather-bound corners of the dining room. Maybe in a bustle and without the right to vote, but nonetheless, a great local.

Cow could I forget the marrow and parsley!!
I first came to The Mall Tavern with a friend who can legitimately call it her local, and we came for one thing.  The Cow Pie.  That’s it.  Pastry, gravy and cow.  I’m a simple girl.  But then I came back for the pigeon pie, their smoked salmon (smoked in kettle on the roof), the roasted wild duck and then the pies again. Hooked.  Apparently, and I’ve never quite got this, other people come here, and they come here a lot, for the Chicken Kiev.  It’s the second highest selling dish on the menu (yes, of course after the Cow Pie).  
Wah, wah. bass pluck, bass pluck, Chicken Kiev, bass pluck wah wah disco Shaft!
Who is 2011 orders Chicken Kiev? Who serves Chicken Kiev after 1973?  When mustard flares, key swapping and perms went out of fashion, so did Kiev - other than in the Bird’s Eye alternative universe where mustard wearing families look very nuclear and smug whilst eating Chicken Kiev.  Maybe that’s why people order Chicken Kiev, it reminds them of a time when they could wear tight fitting clothing and their family wasn’t abstract, interesting or confusing.

"Why Judy, your Chicken Kiev was delectable
and so is your husband...jingle jingle"
I probably shouldn’t write that because my family is entirely nuclear.  My parents will be married for 40 years this December and my sister and I are only mildly damaged from a usual and loving suburban upbringing.  We have two dogs.  I just live on the other side of the world from them all – the dogs and the family – in a spoilt anti-nuclear protest.  

But we ate the Chicken Kiev. As a family, at a dinner table, together, at Mall Tavern.  And we loved it…and then smiled collectively at each other looking very smug.  Snapshot. In fact I think my Dad was actually not smug but trying to remember if he’d been forced to toss out those flares.  The answer Dad is yes, before the tassel loafers and after the Speedo swimwear and all before 1982.  

Attention seeking pink veal
But we’re back to 2011 and there was Chicken Kiev involved in this story…there was also pink veal, served with a dramatic Frenched bone which was prize (be it a little too Bedrock), and the braised beef exactly how you wanted it to taste, but just a little better.  I even have to admit, the vegetarian option – involving quorn (I can’t confidently spell, let alone consume this), butternut squash and my good friend pastry was actually pretty darn tasty.  Damn you quorn, I might eat you, but I’ll never succumb to tofu (other than the silken tofu which is actually pretty darn tasty. Damn you tofu!!). The Mall Tavern serves nostalgia, and serves it well (other than the quorn, nothing nostalgic about that, unless your parents were hippies in the frozen isle).  
Braised beef and celeriac puree, the opposite of tofu
At the Chef’s Table, each dish is shared either from the middle of the table or by rotation.  Sure, there may be some health risks in this approach, but we’re all family…right?  I was granted bell rights (she who controls the bell controls the rotation of dishes) and found it a moment of great struggle to reach and ring when it was my turn to pass the wabba dabba veal to the right.  It was a risky, some may say erroneous, move to trust me to distribute food equally amongst the table.  Unfortunately, I have a conscience and a need for people to share my excitement of a great dish.  Inconvenient but effective in this case. 

Now I know what Arctic Rolls are...
I’m really not a dessert person, born without a sweet tooth I was [click, heel tap, eye wink] but as the meal began to taper off, the table was again packed with every sort of arctic roll, salted caramel, marshmallow, cheesecake, chocolate and hyperactivity generator you might desire.  I didn’t desire though, well, I couldn’t desire.  I’d already out-challenged my eating dress which clung with over-extended desperation to my ever-increasing food baby bulge. So hot! I’m told by my smug family that the desserts were as good as the Kiev but not as good as the cow. More importantly, it was at this point of the meal that my Dad stopped lamenting the disposal of his historic fashion staples.

Toasted marshmallows by Anakin 
My parents won’t be much longer visiting in London which means we won’t leave our next visit to Mall Tavern too long either. Cow pies are not so readily available on Australian summer time menus. And I definitely won’t leave my next quality kitchen day as long between as the last.  I could barely fit my post-Mall Tavern eating dress, but my London mini-fridge certainly can’t fit the product of my post-Sunday kitchen binge.  Sunday dinner at mine anyone?  


Thursday, September 8, 2011

For when I wish I were in Paris...

I have regular cravings to be back in Paris.

The recent visit of a friend who lives there sent my mind right back to the city I haven't yet returned to after leaving in January.  It probably doesn't help that I've been torturing myself in the London summer turned winter by reading Paris was Ours edited by Penelope Rowlands.  It's a collection of short tales by thirty-two writers who have lived in and experienced Paris.  My commuting companions on the Brighton to Bedford train line know my thoughts on the book...mostly in tear format...sometimes in missed stop format. I blame David Lebovitz for the missed stop day, the book was his recommendation!

Until I can visit Paris again (which looks like next month for Le Salon Du Chocolat!!), I have to settle for a "Best of" memory montage of my favourite places.  In my head it's in some hipstomatic slide show to a Gainburg soundtrack.  Either that or some crappy poppy Christophe Mae song long since defunct down the wrong end of the charts. 

I know there have been so many developments in the Paris dining scene in the past 9 month which I can't wait to bite into, but favourites stay favourites for a reason!  

Favourite wine bar and tapas - Standing up, but the best Left Bank experience - L'Avant Comptoir.  It get's crowded, but if you head early you can grab a spot at the bar. The Morgon red is amazing and their tapas dishes are seriously good. ( (L’Avant Comptoir, 9 carrefour de l’Odéon, Sixth Arrondissement, Paris; 011-33-8-2610-1087. No reservations. Open daily).

Beautiful, Chateaubriand
Modern French and one of my bias favourites because I staged there last year - Chateaubriand. Good luck making a booking after it placed 9th in the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards for 2011, but if you get there about 9 you can have a wine and wait at the bar for the unreserved second sitting.  You could also try their other restaurant Le Dauphin two doors down.  It's amazing. That's all.  Please try them...or try them again! ( and ( (Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, 75011 Paris, +33 (0) 1 4357 4595, Reservations necessary for 8pm sitting).

Jackie's comfort duck at Je The..Me
If it's super classic old school French cuisine you are after brave the semi-suburban 15eme and book at  Je The Me.  Jackie is the owner and his son, Damien, the sommelier.  The restaurant is in an old national trust general store and brilliant, his kitchen no bigger than your home set up and his food is like a rich rich hug ( (Je The..Me, 4 rue d'Alleray, Paris, France 01 48 42 48 30).
Home to craving satiation - Le Petit Marche
Probably my favourite place to eat in Paris is Le Petit Marche in the Marais. It's classic French with a modern Asian twist, the staff are laid back and young and it's right of the Place de Vosges so easy to get to (  Location isn't really relevant to me usually (I just spent an entire weekend commuting to a small island in Lake Como for their menu (and absolutely worth it in case you are wondering) but when you crave their Salade Chinoise from Le Petit Marche (which happen regularly) it helps to get there fast! (Le Petit Marche (9 Rue Bearn, Paris, 75003, Tel: 01 42 72 06 67, Reservations necessary).

I forgot about the potato dauphinoise, another reason to order nothing up this
For a classic bistro steak I always head to La Taverne L'arbre sec near Chatelet.  The menu is all good (so my friends tell me) but the Cote de Boeuf is all I ever order.  There is no point pretending even for a minute that any other dish element will trump bone marrow ( (La Taverne De L'arbre Sec (109 Rue Saint-honore, 75004 Paris, 01 08 99 78 61 69).

And now this is were the montage speeds up a little, but don't pay any less attention to these places...I'm just typing faster to get onto to book a train immediately! 

Favorite ice cream (well gelato more correctly) - Grom, Left Bank just near Rue De Buci:  (

Favorite macaron that I continue to emulate at home with fastidious attention and adoration  - Pierre Herme (

Favourite falafal in the Marais: L'As du Falafal, don't waste you time on the others, you will miss out on the best harissa on the block (  I am happy to enter into a street located rap battle on this one you know how many words rhyme with harissa?

A salad in an acceptable size

Best giant French salad and market street combo: Le Rocher de Cancale because I firmly believe that if one must eat salad it should be around the size of a moderate torso ( (78 rue Montorgueil 75002 Paris, 01 42 33 50 29).

Cafe Charlot brunch
All time favourite brunch / classic Parisian bistro lunch - Cafe Charlot in the Marais.  It's perfect and busy and cramped and covered in hollandaise and newspapers hiding heavy rimmed spectacles on beautiful faces ( (38 rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris, France 33 1 44 54 03 30).

Favourite sandwiches, no bread and sandwiches in Paris: Gontran Cherrier.  Ok yes, I have a food crush here but that in no ways sways my integrity or opinion.  Hmmmm ( (22 rue Caulaincourt, 75018).

And finally, in case you are now heading to the same place I am, here, this will make it easier for you:


Saturday, July 9, 2011

I'm without words

literally in this case after attending the Young Turks at Clove Club hosted by Restaurants in Residence in Canary Wharf on their last night service on Wednesday.

My article on the evening and the work of Isaac and James will appear on in the next couple of weeks, at which point I'll shamelessly self-promote, but I wanted to share the plates with you before then...if only to encourage everyone to go to the market at buy a selection of heirloom tomatoes which are amazing right now.

Reading about the Young Turk’s local twist on steak tartare (room temperature, course dice, fat on, salty acid oyster emulsion, capers, elderberry), served previously at the Nuno Mendes’ Loft Project, tipped my palette off about the forthcoming meal well before the bowl of raw sweet sugar snap peas arrived.  Communal amuse bouche courses of cucumber, yoghurt and Indian salt and crisp buttermilk fried chicken left me re-evaluating my statement in a previous article that chicken exists only for unadventurous menu navigators.  I apologise chicken, I was out of line.

A garden of plump summer heirloom tomatoes lashed with goats milk and leafed with wild marjoram guided us to a crisp course of raw mackerel, mustard, gooseberries and crystal lemon cucumbers. Each of these courses showed a delicate respect for the predominantly raw ingredients and the balance between each on the plate.

And then, there were the fore ribs.  A buxsom dish of Angus Rib (smoked and charred over apple wood) served with grilled and pickled onions, porter & land cress. I felt the need to retract my previous proposal to the chicken, I’d clearly moved on. Even the Loganberries, Ewe’s Milk Yoghurt & Beremeal Cake could not tare my attention from those ribs.

Sorry, distracted pause, fore rib related.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Beast Game

In a past London life I lived with my very good girlfriend Josie. Josie has a special and motivating gift, amongst many, of morphing all activities into competitions.  I think having an Olympic athlete as a father can result in this rare and special power, but regardless, if there is an act, let there be a challenge. And if there be a challenge, let me be the winner.  Living together, we made things happen. Well, one of us did, the other one sulked the loser’s sulk while the winner punched a meat carcass and tucked their track pants into their socks.
Our kitchen after The Fridge Game
The Fridge Game was Josie’s way of prompting my other housemate, Olivia and I into clearing from our bulging Electrolux (not a product endorsement, just a proper noun) those miscellaneous foodstuffs with unclear heritage and ownership.  Premise: Who ever cooked the best dish using the highest number and greatest volume of ingredients from the fridge wins.  Prize: Winner takes the glory, that’s all, and maybe a little extra space in the fridge. Proviso: Victory is subject to disqualification in the event of any illness directly resulting from ingredient heritage out dating recommended usage parameters. Is it just me or do competitions start to become a little less fun when three lawyers lay the ground rules? 

The Luggage Game was Josie’s way of expediting our airport departure time on mini-breaks.  The person who removes their bag from the luggage conveyor first is the winner, the others are all losers.  Obstruction, in any way (rugby tackle, impromptu blindfold, hot man decoy) of any player in pursuit of their bag is permitted.  Post holiday bruising has been more common than a tan to me in recent years.

Beef: The favourite...but the winner?
Since Josie moved home to Australia, we have had to content ourselves in pursuing the greatest and most intellectually rigorous of all our competitions. The Beast Game.  Which beast contributes the most to the world? Our world for this purpose is a fairly narrow concept. Our eyes, our mouths, our bellies.

Rungis, Paris.  The big beef!
Cows bring us milk, milk maids, beef, beef jerky, bone marrow, all dairy derivatives, nouns and slurs for human attribution – “you cow”, “such a heffer”, “what’s your beef”, tasteless bachelor furniture and floor rugs, the capital of Phillip Island and the perfect carpaccio accompaniment to truffle oil and parmesan. For that I am thankful. 

Poultry (for a chicken alone cannot challenge a cow, but we’ve all seen Birds, Hitchcock’s warning of the power of collective wings) brings us fillets (both meaty and gel like for a little extra lift), feathers, eggs in all proportions, claws, chicken salt, Kellogg’s branding, a menu item for unadventurous diners and iconic Christmas imagery (non-Jesus related).

Rungis, Paris: Poultry lined up waiting to be counted
It’s odd actually that fish and sea life never entered our duels.  Although while controversial consumption items like the whale may multi score well on contribution to world museum collections, the Darwinian short fallings of the soft-shell crab and it’s life of constant and crushing fear must surely damage any advancement of seafood in the debate.  Perhaps the current infatuation of chefs and foodies with tuna spinal marrow might be worth a punt with Josie next Skype session.

The one to watch: Seafood, the future challenger.
But Orwell, E.B. White, Josie and I all agree there is one winner. One superior beast prevails, perhaps not in variety, and perhaps not if you consider a vast number of the world’s population are prohibited from its consumption,  but in our hearts.  The Pig.

Pork belly, chorizo, pork crackling, bacon, salami, Iberico ham, if pigs could fly, trotters, bacon Cheetos, piglets, suckling pig, Babe, hog roasts, Pumba, bush pigs, pig outs, pig nose, “You pig!” (Risso, Grease, 1978), Porky’s, telling porkies, pork pies, what a porker!, pig tails, three little pigs, pork chops, lardo, sausages…oh sausages, how could I forget sausages.  Bacon….bacon!!! You get my point, all proudly presented by our good friend the swine. Pigs bring home the bacon (oh, Dad!).

Porteno - The perfect pig!
I’m not a religious person, but I do believe my devotion to this delicious beast reveals a path for me through every city in which I live or visit.  In London, to Brawn for pork rillettes and any number of cured and seared contortions of the oink.  In Sydney, to Porteno for dripping, juicy and glass crisp serve of asador slow roasted sucking pig.  In Paris, to L’avant Comptior for a bowl of caramelised pork belly broken on my palette with a strong glass of Morgon. And most recently to New York…

The Meatball Shop - Naked Balls
At The Meatball Shop in the East Village, I devoured a bowl of spicy pork naked balls.  I respect not only the innuendo loaded menu options (and website sound effects which pronounce BALLS in a dirty disco voice across my office) but the low-key, bare brick, wear your own tattoos aesthetic the place effortlessly propagates.  Like a lot of restaurants in New York you understand the City really fosters independent personality and self-expression from its chefs and restaurateurs.  Heritage pork shoulder and hot pickled cherry peppers, doused in classic tomato sauces, lashed with parmesan and politely sided by seasonal vege, addictive, simple and worthy of your best elastic-waisted pants…or a tattoo of your best elastic waisted pants inscribed where your real paints should otherwise be.

Momofuku Ssam: Steamed Pork Buns
While my failure to navigate the time space continuum with grace meant I had to defer my Porchetta roast rolled pork sandwich until next time, my belly was on site for David Chang’s pork belly at Momofuku Ssam Bar. David hates bloggers, is famed for his ‘meteoric rise’ in the international restaurant scene, is a leader in iPad food publishing and…really…I’m all about his buns…pork…I mean pork buns.
Sweet, sticky, fatty, pork belly floating between the cheeks of an inexplicably light steamed bun - glossed with hoi sin, Sriracha, pickles and spring onions.  This wasn’t even an “I would marry this pork bun” kind of situation.  As I said, I’m not religious, I wasn’t waiting until we got married!

Buns with something to prove...
If you can’t get to New York for Momofuku, buy David Chang and Peter Meehan’s book, Momofuku, and make them yourself. Read the book too.  The determination, navigation of luck (of all varieties), stoic self-belief and ‘chef as rock star’ persona of David weave in and out of all Momofuku’s best dishes. If you don’t like to purchase or read, cheat and find the recipe here…then learn to enjoy reading and join a read-a-thon. 
Devour Ssam Diet Steamed Pork Buns
As for my buns: texture was right, colour not quite, pork…well, I was forced to slim it down to fillet at the behest of my guests.  Flavour paid the price (belly is always, always better) but it still worked.  If you do the same, just roll, tie, oil and season the fillet, sear and finish in the oven until still pink – this is a quick process, don’t kill it! The United States Department of Agriculture guidelines now dictate that pork is safe for consumption at 145°F/63°C so get used to it! Without undermining my stance on pork, I also prepared a marinated steak version which I think may actually have been better.  But then I remembered how odd udders are and went back to championing pork.  

Momofuku Ssam: Bev Eggleston’s pork shoulder steak – ramps, hominy, queso oaxaca
I’m thinking when Josie arrives for her next Euro trip I’ll surprise her at the baggage carousel in Gaga style hoof boots and a meat dress. I’ll take her down before she reaches her bag and then take her home for pork buns...and a side dish incorporating every single item in my refrigerator. Yep, that sounds balanced.  Win!


p.s. If you liked this post, read this: Bacon, we have a problem.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I had nearly given up...nearly

I’ve watched Weird Science one and a half times this week, inserted two packets of Mentos into Diet Coke bottles and pondered the brilliance of my Year Two volcano project for at least 8 seconds.

I feel nothing.

I’ve changed my alarm theme to Catalan Morning Shine, alphabetised my recipe collection by method and slept in my chef whites every night.


Did air transport enthusiasts feel this way disembarking the final Concorde flight?  Probably not, they were wearing travel luxe complementary flight jumpsuits.  They would have felt embarrassment. That’s something.

So this is what it feels like to experience El Bulli. Huh…

Such a food tourist!
I entered every ballot, each competition, crossed every limb hoping for a reservation at the greatest restaurant of our time.  I spent much of my late teens and early twenties fearing that my number would come up before I ever had the capacity to pay for the journey from Australia (bakery bunnies in the 90’s didn’t earn the glamour money they do today).  Unfortunately, my number never came up and bankruptcy from such an insignificant financial vantage point remained irrelevant. To be honest, it kind of still does.

Twice before I came close, missed out and wept in the way only those who have seen The Notebook understand. Actually, also those who have also seen Blue Valentine and the crushing evidence of Ryan Gosling’s demise into 30-something follicle recession.

El Bulli closes, for good, at the end of July.  That’s 6 weeks away.  I had nearly given up. Nearly…

I received an email last week from one director of my company announcing a countdown to his own El Bulli moment.  I swiftly responded with a plethora of bold italic exclamation marks representing my enthusiasm for his luck, and then qualified my email with an acknowledgement that a small part of my soul was now slaughtered by jealousy’s spear.

He must have assumed me odd and grammatically incorrect. But I didn’t weep.

Instead I felt a light zephyr, an air of hope if you will.

Gorgonzola balloon, broken and eaten bite for bite with the glass sheer olive oil crisp.
The first “chapter” of cocktails and canapés, served outdoors,  violated (with consent) every sector of my culinary understanding whilst holding my hand through disappearing bursts, crystal shards and clouds of fizz.  
Not long after I received a visitor at my desk.  My exclamation key was happy for the reprieve. It was my director. Not The Countdown Director. The Direct Director.  The director who, I was informed, would be unable to take his place at the table of culinary history in front of Ferran’s kitchen and dine at El Bulli.  And so it was, because of him, my time had come.

Moving indoors, flowers paper, adult fairy floss dotted with flavoured flowers. We cannot confirm or deny but our taste buds did pass out for a while at this point.
At this point I did weep.  It was actually a little less meek than weep.  I think a dance, jump, squeal, sob in the fairground vein of Wilbur the Pig is more correct. 

It’s funny and revealing to me that even as an adult a physical reaction is sometimes so unbridled.  I was shaking a little, bright red and my brain was utterly incapable of forming a coherent thought which did not involve spherification or freeze drying (pronounced with a Catalan thah).  I took a moment in the staff car park to gather myself, although the resident carton of smokers quickly drove me inside after a failed and jarring heel click. Damn you Grandpa Jo, you make it look so easy.

Carbonara tagliatelle with a consomme noodle. How?
Last Thursday when I met Ferran in his kitchen at El Bulli I was as red and as shaken.  Right now, remembering it, I am the same…although I have resigned my brain to accept a home spherification is impractical and I will never be able to speak Spanish.

I have to be honest, not my favourite course, but seriously sexy plating...and it did turn me onto caviar.
El Bulli was 49 courses to which I have no comparison. Ferran and his team are artists and inventors, creators of culinary mythology, presenting dishes of humour and wit whilst encouraging contemplation and rediscovery of flavour and taste.  I will happily slide down every vortex of cliché ever written or expressed about El Bulli but I have tried to avoid use of the word genius.  Shift F7 suggests Wizz Kid.  I don’t think this quite works. 

Apple rose
I will never eat, feel or see anything like El Bulli again.  Although my family home in Melbourne does challenge El Bulli on a units of bull dog design items per square metre basis. Our 3-year-old French bulldog, Montesquieu, may just tip the scales in our favour.  

Not to be confused with my family home, El Bulli's dining room.
I’m convinced the only thing stopping us from physical and cerebral combustion was the juxtaposition of our Dr Who menu and the aged wood, velvet and personality rich dining room.  Feeling like we were eating in a friend’s home placated any urge to panic from fear of course 42 arriving.  Wine lulled our surprise discovery of a mimetic almond shattering under bite.

I'm never washing this page again!
A week on, I still have my signed A Day at El Bulli open on my coffee table.  I recall bites, flickers and waves.  I’m trying to reassimilate. I’m annoyed easyjet don’t issue travel jumpsuits. I cannot believe I made it to El Bulli!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 


Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Curious Case of Mr Basil

In 1995 I read in a magazine that you should never consider the birth and raising of a child if you are incapable of cultivating and maintaining the life of a plant.  This seems like a solid proposition to me. 

Although it was Cosmopolitan magazine and I did at the time question the topical expertise of "How To..." girls musing on the credentials of parenthood or horticulture, I have utilised this statement as a shield to the numerous grandchildren themed conversation segues attempted by my parents over the years.

"Did you know David's daughter Lindy, well she and her husband, Michael, they are expecting their..." 

"Mum, I killed my Ficas"

"and Susan, since her daughter Andrea had..."

"Actually Mum, I've been meaning to tell you, the Pilodendron, I dropped him."

You can imagine then the risk I take in writing this post about my only and greatest herbaceous achievement.  Mr Basil.

Mr Basil's early days were fairly standard as basil plants go, spending his formative years in the fresh greens isle of Waitrose.  It was here that I found him, middle of the pack, one Saturday afternoon.  I wrapped him up, bought him home and sat him in the window of our kitchen (which receives about as constant a flood of sunlight as any window in London ever could). Then I stared at him.  He didn't do anything.  It's similar to the anti-climax you may confront by when visiting a friends new born for the first time. Little Benjamin looks cute, healthy, but he doesn't really do anything...then he does do something and you remember you really needed to be somewhere else. Fast. Apologies to any friends with children reading this, I'm not referring to your baby, he's different, of course.

One of Mr Basil's more classic accomplishments:
Lemon, hazelnut and basil pesto with roasted chicken and fresh goats cheese. 
After weeks of mediocrity and C's in school, Mr Basil pulled himself together and grew up, ferociously. He seemed to miss that awkward and uncertain teenage phase (which is good, I wasn't ready for the psychology of teenage self doubt) and went straight into his bold and cocky twenties.  The girls started coming on the scene about this time too.  Rosemary, Parsley, Chives.  Mo Honeys, Mo Growth. Our window sill became the hottest place in town. An unfortunate bi-product of his swift development, he's not quite as sweet as he used to be.  More anise and tarragon than I really like, but I expect as he continues to mature the grassiness will return with a little cinnamon and clove. But, if he choses to pursue to drama and the arts over a more rounded career then so be it. 

People come from all over the neighbourhood to see him, touch him, marvel in his shadow.  Lesser herb growers bring their failing crops from across town just to sit them close to Mr Basil in the hope they too will be inspired to greatness.  A Televangalism scout noticed him on the street the other day and left me his business card.  He thinks Mr Basil has great potential and charisma and could be a true healing saviour to other plant.  The Amazon really needs him.

I'm encouraging him to learn another language, but Italian just comes naturally.
Pasta, wild mushroom duxelle, rocket, walnuts, poached egg, torn basil and a dash of truffle oil.
But for now, Mr Basil is just weighing up his options.  I'm still watering him three times daily with a simulated rain shower every second day (this is a genetic over-compensation, my parents dogs are fed peeled grapes for breakfast, a little fake rain is nothing).  We apologise with a kind stroke every time we pick him and I always make sure I shield him from the sight of his leaves being torn over hot foccacia or being blitzed into pesto.

So there you have him. Mr Basil. But just in case you're wondering Mum and Dad, he could die any day now, don't get too excited.