I caught up with my friend Matt for lunch today, and we decided to meet at The Imp in East Victoria Park. According to its website, The Imp specialises in "breakfast, baguettes, salads, tapas, cakes and more" - an old menu can be viewed online to give an idea of the selection available. It received a positive write up in The West Australian Good Food Guide 2011, scoring 12/20, and is located within walking distance of The Park Centre so parking is easy at any time of day. The restaurant is small and quite cramped, but thankfully it wasn't very busy so we were able to get a table. Ordering is done at the counter, although this wasn't immediately obvious - we had been seated for nearly ten minutes before Matt went to the counter and asked for menus. None of the staff approached us during this time to see if we would like anything, or even to ask if we intended to order. We had both looked at the menu online, and I was a little disappointed to see that the item I had chosen (cheesy baguette with brie, lettuce, sliced apple, walnuts and local honey) was no longer available. Matt ordered the chicken BLT ($16) and I ordered the pumpkin & sage arancini ($12) and a serve of fries ($7). We were both surprised when my order arrived, as it wasn't made clear on the menu that the arancini was a tapas item - I'd remembered from the website that tapas is only served from 1pm (we were earlier than that), and it was a similar price to the baguettes and other more obvious lunch items. I had actually wondered if ordering the fries would be too much; in hindsight I would have been extremely hungry if I hadn't. The serving size was five arancini, each about 1.5 inches in diameter. They were quite stodgy and crying out for some kind of sauce - well overpriced at $12. I realise that they were meant to be part of a tapas meal, and I never have an issue paying for decent food, but if that quantity and quality had been presented to me in the form of a risotto I would have sent it back. The fries were fresh and crisp, accompanied by a very garlicky and rather thin aioli. The serving size was generous, but then again I'd expect it to be for $7. To make matters worse, Matt's chicken BLT arrived some ten minutes after my meal. The restaurant wasn't busy, so I have no idea why it took so long. At one point a waitress came over of her own accord to apologise for the wait, but his meal still wasn't served for another three to four minutes. Matt enjoyed his chicken BLT for the most part, although it only contained enough chicken to cover just over half of the roll. The rind had been left on the bacon which always makes for either a chewy surprise or a mess removing it before you start. I wasn't impressed by that at all. With neither of us being overly satisfied with our lunch, we decided to give dessert & coffee a go. The dessert selection was well presented and appeared to be of high quality, including biscuits, brownies, cheesecakes, tarts and so on. Matt ordered the chocolate fudge cake, which was served warm with ice cream. He said that it was as delicious as it looked, and thankfully not as heavy as he expected - he noted in particular the high quality of the chocolate used. I ordered the rhubarb-custard crumble, which was also served warm with ice cream. I was impressed with this dessert - the custard had flecks of vanilla through it and the tartness of the rhubarb had been tamed, perhaps just a little too much. If I were to criticise, the crumble could have used more than one texture (perhaps some nuts mixed in with the biscuit) and I would have liked it served hotter to make the most of the ice cream. We both agreed that the coffee was drinkable, but nothing special. Quite unusually it was too strong, which makes a change from the weak and watery coffee usually served around town. At least it didn't have the horrible burnt taste so often delivered by cafes that claim to serve decent coffee. The two desserts and coffees cost $22, so we spent a total of $57 between us - not cheap by any means. Dessert definitely saved the day on this occasion, but neither of us will be going back for lunch in a hurry. There are a few nice-sounding breakfast items (including the "heart-stopper roll" with bacon, hash browns, chipolatas, cheese and house made barbecue sauce) which might tempt me, but I'd be wanting a better cup of coffee.
I realise that this series is fast becoming an encyclopedia of burgers - and that was never my intention - but McDonald's is an easy target with its colourful and extensive history of regional variations. This is by no means a criticism, and is testament to McDonald's willingness to adapt and innovate in order to continue its global success. In saying that, I touched on KFC Japan in an earlier post, and considered writing about Pizza Hut Japan, but it's just so weird that there's not enough hours in the day to do it justice. Check this out: It's called the "Double Roll", and takes the stuffed crust concept to extremes by filling it with what appear to be hot dogs, then throwing peas and corn over the top. It even comes with ketchup and maple syrup dipping sauces. Almost all of Pizza Hut Japan's pizzas come with mayonnaise on them, and if you've ever tried that you'll know that it's just wrong. But I digress. McDonald's France is currently offering three new burgers as part of its “Big Cheese Cravings” promotion (“Les Grandes Envies de Fromages”). One is topped with chevre (goat's cheese), one with blue cheese, and the third with cantal (a firm cheese from the Auvergne region of France, similar in flavour to cheddar). Each cheese is accompanied by a matching sauce (pepper in the case of the cantal). This trio of reviews (thanks to Google for the rather dodgy translations) conclude that the burgers are nothing special, and notes that the cheese portions are nowhere as big as in the photos. Make what you will of the comment "Ok salad is there to temper the chubby side of goat". This is the kind of regional burger variant that just wouldn't work in the USA, a country often considered to be where cheese goes to die - indeed the term "American cheese" is an oxymoron, just like "American comedy". Burger Business reports that 50 of the 120 McDonald's restaurants in Paris are experimenting with table service, where customers order from a touchscreen. They obviously have a higher class of customer than in this corner of the world, where the screens would be broken, graffiti-ed and/or removed altogether within five minutes of opening. McDonald's has tested table service in America on several occasions - from 2001 to 2004 they trialled the "McDonald's with a Diner Inside" concept, where customers in some locations ordered from their tables via telephone.
I have a strange confession to make. MasterChef UK is one of my favourite shows, and I religiously watch every episode be it "normal", celebrity, professional or junior. I watched MasterChef USA with Ramsay at the helm. But I have yet to see a single episode of MasterChef Australia. My usual excuse is that I get TV from Foxtel or the Internet, and there just isn't enough on free-to-air to warrant the cost and effort of getting an aerial. But the reality is that the snob in me hates the fact that MasterChef has become such a phenomenon in Australia, bringing with it a plethora of new cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules, Iron Chef Australia (which thankfully was better than the pitiful UK edition) and the odd-sounding Conviction Kitchen. I feel cheated that so many Australians love this "bastardised" version of MasterChef with its different set and format, without having watched the original blossom and grow. It's like when the indie band you've loved for years puts out a crappy song that's played on commercial radio umpteen times a day. It's hard to go shopping these days without bumping into something with a MasterChef logo on it. Australia's Channel Ten has reportedly paid $150 million to secure the rights for the next three years, and other countries are getting on board too. I will watch MasterChef Australia season 3, mainly because I've become a fan of judge Gary Mehigan through watching "Good Chef Bad Chef" and "Boy's Weekend" on Foxtel. I'm an unashamed fan of Gordon Ramsay so I had to watch MasterChef USA, but I wasn't convinced by the format and was nervous to hear that it was being adopted by MasterChef UK. At the very least, the new format almost halves the amount of viewing to 15 one hour episodes over 11 weeks. I can understand dispensing with the early rounds and getting down to business with the crazy challenges, but so much of the appeal of MasterChef UK is the chemistry (carpentry?) between John and Gregg. And what about the cliches? Like Gregg's love of puddings (did you know his Twitter nickname is @puddingface ?) . The music. The voice-over lady. And just when you think John and Gregg's deliberations are completely staged (why is it never a case of "bloody hell they're all crap"?), you learn that once they got so drunk trying to resolve a dispute that filming had to be postponed. The series starts with two audition shows, where an unknown number of contestants (apparently short-listed from 20,000 applicants) compete for 20 places in the show proper. Each contestant has 45 minutes to cook a dish of their choosing, and then 10 minutes to finish and plate in front of John and Gregg. First up we meet "Paul", who presents a blatant rip-off of Kenny Atkinson's winning Great British Menu fish course of breaded mackerel with gooseberries. John and Gregg agree that his food is great, and John tells Paul that he has a place in the competition - but wait! - Gregg reminds John that the decision has to be unanimous. Naughty John for forgetting! Gregg was only teasing, of course, and hands Paul a coveted apron with the same enthusiasm as if he was presenting third prize in a primary school raffle. Side rant: Gregg commented that he'd never seen fish cooked like that before, yet I recognised it in an instant. I can understand that Gregg may not have seen Great British Menu, but surely someone at the BBC should have picked that up? Contestants are accompanied by family members who anxiously wait for the result of the judging, a la Idol and X-Factor. Thankfully we didn't see any tantrums, which is lucky given the amount of hot food and knives close to hand. Just so we know how the system works, the first three contestants were given a yes, a no and a split decision. The four contestants receiving a split decision were invited to cook again - their "shoot out" was a welcome return to familiar MasterChef territory, and you could even feel it in John's dialogue. I'm used to John and Gregg's deliberations feeling wooden and rehearsed, but to extend it to the tastings really messed with the balance. At times I felt like I was watching the Muppets. I know that only one episode of the new series has screened, but it all just felt a bit weird. Like when one of my friends started dating one of my work colleagues after they met at my 21st birthday party - some worlds just aren't meant to collide. Let's hope things loosen up as we move forward. Bring on the crazy challenges.
Unfortunately my brain is still in reverse after my quick trip to Sydney and back, so nothing creative is likely to pop out today. Did I experience any gourmet delights in Sydney, I hear you ask? Um...no. I did learn a few things:
- the restaurant in the middle-of-nowhere motel I stayed at isn't open on Saturday or Sunday nights, which doesn't inspire confidence. It also doesn't help when you arrive on Sunday night not having had lunch yet. Don't get me started on how bad the breakfast was.
- the service at KFC in Sydney is as slow as it is in Perth. Hey, it was either that or the BP service station.
- BP service station custard tarts aren't very nice.
- Food Liberation Army holds Ronald McDonald hostage. I hear they've also been waterboarding Grimace :( (NPR)
- Taste test : dark chocolate. Yum...hmm, I wonder if I can get any of them here? (Serious Eats).
- Erotic pasta. I probably can't get that here either, but I'm not quite as bothered... (Slashfood)
- Jamie Oliver thinks British kids are lazy, calling them the "wet generation". They're just as wet and lazy down under, Jamie. (Eater National)
- The secret recipe for Coke revealed? Blenders on standby...now where did I put the neroli? (news.com.au)
- Heston Blumenthal talks about his new TV show Heston's Mission Impossible, which sounds a little dull but I'll be sure to tune in anyway. Maybe he should have left it at Little Chef. (guardian.co.uk)
- My highlight of the week - Masterchef UK returns tomorrow!... although they've adopted the format and set changes from Australia and America, and that makes me a little nervous. Watch for my review later this week. (Digital Spy)
Okay, I know I've been on record moaning about how difficult it is to get a good burger in Australia (particularly Perth). Of course I know that quality options are available - I have been to Jus Burger - but every time I go past there it's packed to the rafters and so quality tends to become inaccessible on a casual basis. I recently picked up The West Australian's "Good Food Guide 2011" ($19.95 from newsagents) and was pleasantly surprised to see a "best burgers" category. I wasn't surprised to see Alfred's Kitchen in Guildford (an essential stop on the way home from visiting friends in that area who liked to dine on the cheap and had small appetites) and The Burger Bistro in Shafto Lane, which I've walked past on several occasions but have never tried because it's always full, like Jus Burgers. New to me was V Burger Bar in Victoria Park, and since I was in the vicinity (well on the right side of the Swan River and in control of a car) I went there for lunch earlier this week. V Burger Bar faces onto Albany Highway and is part of a small complex that includes Charcoal House Cafe and Chock Dii Thai. It's a small restaurant but thankfully it has quite a few tables outside. I arrived just before noon and there was a steady stream of people getting takeaway orders as well as diners at every table inside the restaurant. One thing that always delights me on a menu - onion rings. I've never been a great fan of chips, and my two favourite sides are onion rings and coleslaw. Obviously I was born in the wrong country because they're so uncommon here. And no, Hungry Jacks (Burger King) fans, their onion rings don't cut it although I am yet to try their new side serve of Angry Onions. I ordered the Crispy Crisp burger (prime beef, gourmet lettuce, tomato, crispy battered onion, V relish and aioli) for $10.80 with cheese added for an extra $1.50. I don't do raw tomato on burgers or sandwiches so I ordered it without, and I couldn't resist a side order of onion rings $4. The selection of drinks was limited (I was really hoping for a milkshake) and I settled for a can of Coke Zero. After a wait of a little under ten minutes my onion rings arrived. They were crisp but not too hot, although I'm not sure if this was intentional or whether they'd been sat around for a while. The serving size was ample, and the aioli nice and peppery without being over the top. My burger took about the same time again to come out, which given the time of day wasn't anything to complain about. If I hadn't had the onion rings to keep me going the wait might have been a bit too long. Whoa mama! I wasn't expecting a whole extra serve of onion rings in the burger. Being careful not to impale myself on the massive stick holding it together, I removed all but one onion ring to give myself some chance of getting the burger in in my mouth. What can I say, but it was absolutely delicious. The burger patty was without a doubt the most moist and tasty that I have eaten. The focaccia-style bun was light and crispy, and held everything together without getting too soggy. The relish was chunky without tasting of raw tomato. I will definitely return to V Burger Bar to sample some of the other menu items including the side of crispy salt & pepper calamari. The pricing is just right and the menu includes a good variety of burgers including vegetarian, chicken, seafood and a gluten-free bun option. Highly recommended. V Burger Bar 12/910 Albany Highway Victoria Park WA Phone: (08) 9355 3702 www.vburgerbar.com.au Opening Hours Monday - 5:00pm to 9:30pm Tuesday to Thursday - 11:30am to 9:30pm Friday to Saturday - 11:30am to late Sunday - 11:30am to 9:30pm
Now that Indian food has a firm place in the Australian palate, Indian restaurants and takeaway establishments seem to be popping up all over the place. I noticed the Rockingham store of local franchise Grand Indian Flavours preparing to open a few weeks ago, and tonight I took the plunge. I've been particularly keen on this store opening as it's a few doors down from Nick's Place, definitely the best kebab establishment in the area, and a favourite of my wife's. I enjoy a good kebab, but would usually rather have a curry or Chinese takeaway. Tonight I was able to please both of us, and that's never a bad thing. I've always felt there are two kinds of curry you get when eating out: "restaurant" curry and "food hall" curry, the latter being generally served from a bain-marie and distinguishable only by how much they burn your throat, regardless of whether they carry a familiar name or not. Chicken vindaloo is my restaurant-testing dish of choice, and I held high hopes that Grand Indian Flavours would finally be offer something quick and decent. The store fit out was very well done, clean and colourful. The two gentlemen behind the counter were very friendly, and they informed me that this was their third store in the franchise (the others being Armadale and Riverton). I elected to go for a combination of three curries (chicken vindaloo, beef madras & rogan josh), a garlic naan, a huge meat samosa and some mango chutney for a very reasonable $20.40. The naan was cooked fresh to order and the rest was served up from the bain-marie by a gentleman with an embarrassing spot of yogurt (at least I hope that's what it was) on his chin. I wish I'd taken a photo of that. As you can see, the container had a label on the lid, which I thought was a nice touch. There isn' t a nice way to photograph three curries shoved into a plastic container so I'll save you the horror of looking at it. My samosa (possibly the world's largest) collapsed when I took at out of the bag, spewing its mince contents everywhere, so I'll save you the displeasure of looking at that as well. Given that I only paid $20 for the whole meal it's hard to compare it to a more expensive restaurant, but unfortunately it was no better than any other food hall curry or the popular but pedestrian Maya Masala chain moving through our shopping centers. Each curry was dry, and surprisingly lacking in flavour given that I ordered from the hotter end of the menu. The only real way to determine which was which was the texture of the meat. The naan was too thin and crisp, and the samosa generous in size but very difficult to eat and not particularly tasty. I could only ate half of my large combination (three meat curries and rice for $13.90). In my bag I received a coupon to enter a weekly draw to win a $25 dinner, and a special deal of - wait for it - spend $10 and receive 4 free pappadums. A nice touch, but I'm not rushing back for a couple of pappadums. They offer a vaired selection of curries, both meat and vegetarian, and a large selection of indian desserts if you're into that kind of thing (I've never dared venture into that territory). Meat curries by themselves cost from $7.50 (small) to $13.90 (large), and they offer free home delivery within 5km for orders over $40. So yes, I was disappointed but then again what could I reasonably expect at the price. The service was good, and I'll probably give them another go but next time will try some of the milder, "saucier" offerings such as the butter chicken, lamb korma and dhal. Grand Indian Flavours Shop 2 / 16 Railway Terrace Rockingham WA Phone: (08) 9591 1222 or (08) 9591 1229 www.grandindianflavours.com.au
Curtis Stone is an Australian who's more famous overseas than at home. He's been on our screens recently as the face of Coles (a large Australian supermarket chain), where he pretends that he can feed four people for $10. Being a regular reader of food-related news, I often read about Curtis and wonder how he managed to be so successful in America while passing Australia by for the most part. It was only after reading this article that I remembered where I'd actually seen him on Australian television - all those years ago (2004) on Surfing the Menu. Curtis worked in some top Australian restaurants before heading to London where he worked under Marco Pierre White. Since heading to America, he's been the star of Take Home Chef and has appeared on Oprah, Ellen and Martha. He's the new host of Top Chef Masters and will be a judge and investor alongside Bobby Flay on NBC's new series America's Next Great Restaurant. Of course there's also the Coles deal, books to write and everything else that comes with a growing food empire (US$200 for a mortar and pestle? Seriously?). He's a busy boy, and good luck to him. Mind you, the Coles deal is apparently worth around $20 million - my free advice to Coles is to dispense with his services and reduce my shopping bill accordingly. Side note: After his performance on The Celebrity Apprentice 3, fans gave Curtis the nickname "the quiet terminator". Which sounds good if you're looking to hire a poisoner, but doesn't make me want to try his recipes. Curtis' partner on Surfing the Menu was Ben O'Donoghue. I have always found Curtis to be incredibly wooden, and Ben is definitely the more likable of the two with his "larrikin" Aussie manner. Ben's skill when it comes to Asian cooking is particularly impressive, and I'd much rather eat his food than Curtis' given the choice. As far as fame goes, though, Ben seems to have stalled after a promising start. Ben started his career at Jessica's Seafood Restaurant in my home town of Perth, and then worked in top Sydney restaurants before moving to London where he worked at the River Cafe and the Monte's Club in Knightsbridge with Jamie Oliver. He's now the Creative Director of the Great Australian Pie Company in the UK - Aussie pies so good we've never heard of them, and can't be bought in Australia. Ah, of course - Ben is modeling his pies on Curtis' career! We last saw Ben starring on television in "The Best in Australia" with Anna Gare and the smug Darren Simpson, a very entertaining series that is better than the UK version that Ben also starred in, although I often wish that Ben or Anna would do us all a favour and punch Darren in the face, or perhaps knee him in the groin. Side rant: Darren Simpson has appeared on the Australian version of Ready Steady Cook, and like all of the competing chefs is incapable of finishing in the allotted time. Hasn't anybody explained the rules to them? And what is the point of the bag if they have an entire supermarket in the pantry? Ainsley would be beside himself. I used to want to throw things at the television when Peter Everett buggered up someone's house on the Australian version of Changing Rooms, and now I have to put up with his gormless ramblings on a cooking show. Grrr. Ben is currently advertising two products on Australian television - Be Natural Trail Bars & Sanitarium Vegie Delights. I actually considered buying and reviewing both of these products for this article, but there's only so much pain I'm willing to put myself through and ultimately I decided not to encourage the sale of such products. So be aware that the following comments come from a place of complete ignorance. The Trail Bars are promoted by Zoot Review, a marketing company that uses b-grade celebrities to endorse products nobody wants - American advertorials for exercise equipment spring to mind. Ben's "unscripted" advert is very forced, and he looks and sounds remarkably rough. Maybe it was filmed after a big night, or perhaps he now sleeps under a pile of Curtis' discarded "Feed Your Family" booklets. Ben's website appears to have been last updated in 2009, although his Twitter account shows activity so I think it's safe to assume he's not dead. Maybe he tweets from the laptops of strangers he meets on the beach. More disturbingly we move to Sanitarium Vegie Delights, quite simply a crime against humanity. Hey, vegetarians - there's a reason you don't eat bacon or sausages, why on Earth would you reshape some processed vegetables and pretend that you're eating them? Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against vegetarians or vegetarian food, but these products are the equivalent of whittling down a sausage and pretending it's a carrot. "You'll feel great" and "have a spring in your step". Hmm. I think a "Deli Luncheon Henchen" sandwich would just about finish me off. At least I have a rough idea what's in the polony it's pretending to be ("luncheon meat" to those in the UK). What in God's name is Henchen? Come on Ben, stop advertising dodgy products and get back on our screens doing what you do best - it's time to show Curtis who's boss. Hey, even BI-LO had Huey as its front-man (or should that be mascot...?) - maybe it's worth giving Woolworths a call?