When I come to think of it, I really have moved around a lot over the past few years. I had always wanted to live in Melbourne, and so after landing a job, I made the big move to the city. After living there for four years, my partner in crime got a job in another city. Dubai. And what am amazing city, and experience that was!
Now after moving back form Dubai, we have found ourselves a little 'surf shack', down at Ocean Grove. Life is a little more cruisy by the sea. However I do venture back to the city for regular visits.
What better reason to spend a few nights in the city than for the Melbourne ford and wine festival!
Late Friday morning, we drove to the city to start our weekend at crown. All throughout the city for MFWF, many top restaurants hold an 'express lunch'. So you can get a 2 course lunch and wine for only $40. So, we went to the top of the list...the Atlantic.
I had an entree of Grilled Quail on top of a rocket & fig salad. With a balsamic reduction & shavings of Parmesan cheese. I can't imagine any better ingredients to go together. And the quail was cooked to perfection! It was soft, juicy & tender, but not undercooked. The figs were cooked slightly, so that they were soft and sweet. Rob had the mussel broth, which was mussels in an orange cream based soup with vegetables. For main, I had seared tuna in a bed of sautéed fennel. On the side was an olive, onion, tomato and parsley tapenade. Simple, fresh ingredients, cooked to perfection. Rob decided to see how Donovan did classic fish and chips. It was definitely the best fish and chips I have tasted. The batter was crunchy, salty and melted in your mouth. As did the fish. Soft, moist and flakey. And the chips had a crispy golden yellow outside and soft in the centre. There was a choice of white or red wine for the express lunch. For all the white meat we had, we chose the white, which was a lovely Chardonnay. A heavier white than we are used to, but the peachy honey aftertaste was delicious and refreshing.
As we had a late, large lunch, the idea was to have a light dinner. But when in Melbourne, why miss out on what the city has to offer. So, off we went to try to get a walk in table at Gradi! Surprisingly we were in luck. Only a few mins wait and we had a table for two. While we were waiting, we couldn't help notice the salumeria, where the prosciutto was being sliced wafer thin, as it should be! So, we ordered a plate! It came out served on pita crisps, dressed in olive oil, salt and rosemary. Along with a nice big shaving of parmesan. Well, just as we had thought, the prosciutto was amazing! Soft, paper thin, melt in your mouth.
As for mains, we both ordered pizza. When you go somewhere where they have won awards for something, you don't go order something else on the menu. So, I ordered the award winning Gradi Margarita Pizza...and now, I know what the fuss is all about! It was about the crispy, yet soft and pillowy base with little pockets of bubbles, charred from being baked in the wood fire oven. The basic, fresh tomato sauce, which tasted like their Nonna had just whipped up a batch. The creamy, oozy dollops of buffalo mozzarella, and the fresh scattered basil leaves on top. It was definitely worth stuffing myself, and rolling back to the hotel for! In saying that, we skipped dessert, which is very unlikely for us!
On Saturday, I woke up without my Roberto, as he was off paragliding with the boys. So now my date is the city. First was a breakfast date at 'a little bird told me'. Well, a little bird told me that I could get the 'best croissants in Melbourne', just a few blocks away in the CBD. These are Luna Croissants which are made at their bakery in Elwood. Usually I tend to get almond croissants, or Pain aux Raisins, but instead I opted for the classic...a plain croissant...along with my usual soy latte. Well, the latte was ok, a little weak, but drinkable. The croissant made up for the latte as it was absolutely amazing! It had a dark caramel crust with a glossy finish. Upon tearing apart the croissant, the crisp flakey crust broke into shards of paper thin flakes, and the centre was delicate and soft, like layers of buttery fairy floss. Now, I don't know if I have paid this much attention to croissants before, but this croissant was amazing! I can definitely understand why it is named the best croissant in Melbourne. I think that all of the other times I have bought an almond croissant or a pain aux raisins, the additional ingredients have masked the delicacy of the pastry. I was very inspired by this croissant and hope that one day I can perfect its pastry.
After a wonder around the city, I headed to the Queen Vic market. The regular shopping stalls of the market are all same same. Its the food that at least all the Melbournians come for. As much as you can get a bargain on fruit and veg, I wonder where some of it comes from, and where/how it is grown. And if the grocer has just picked the cheapest of the lot to make the most money, or do they truly care about their produce?
There were only a few stalls, apart from the organic section that looked like they cared about quality, as it showed through their presentation of the produce and their stall.
I bought some amazing asparagus. They were thicker than my thumb! I also bought a prickly pear, a red sweet potato, some heirloom tomatoes& then some fruit to go with my cheese! Some black shiraz grapes & a fig.
Then I wandered down to the deli hall. So many Cheeses!! After walking the loop (and trying to get past the croud of people waiting for a borek!), I spotted a french cheese shop! (Cue Angels singing!!)
The lady who served me, was so helpful! I asked for a brie & she asked me wether I wanted it strong, mild, creamy, nutty. I opted for strong. I love stinky cheese!! She gave me a little taste and OMG cue angels singing again!! I never knew brie could be so strong & good! SOLD! She cut me a little piece, just big enough for one. I had also wanted some blue. But after purchasing the strong bitey brie, I wondered if it was a good idea. But miraculously, she gave me a tasting of a 2 out of 5 mild blue & again...angels!! Just perfect! I also grabbed some duck terrine and I was done. But before she left, she said 'Make sure you get some bread!''Dont ruin that lovely cheese with crackers!'. So, off to the bakery, where I grabbed myself a baguette. Not nearly as good as the ones in France, but still good enough for my cheese. Also, while I was at the Deli, I picked up a fillet of smoked trout & some pickled octopus. What an amazing dinner I'm going to have!
Now, I was going to go to the spring st grocer for some gelato, but as I went to the movies, I had another favourite of mine...a choc top. But this is no ordinary choc top! This is Melbourne, and at Kino cinemas, they have caramel macadamia connoisseur choc tops! Yummmooo!!
Breakfast the next morning was leftovers from dinner as I had so much food! But I cant complain! Smoked trout & cheese for breakfast is pretty good - fit for a breakfast at the hotel windsor!
Unfortunately, being a Sunday, a lot of places are closed in the city. I went to Dukes in flinders lane, looking for some coffee, but found no luck - they were shut. Then I went to Sensory Lab. Hurrah! They were open! And they made me a great latte!
The Langham is such a beautiful hotel. A perfect venue for the MFWF Master Classes...and more!
The masterclass for Eric Kayser was held in the Grand Ballroom. Before that, we were given complimentary refreshments in the foyer. I don't think the coffee there would have been as good as my sensory lab coffee...but this is the MFWF!
The ballroom was jammed packed with people! Eric gave us the whole spiel on break & baking. How it used to be something special, where you would share a beautiful loaf of bread with family or friends. The bread was enjoyed as something special, it wouldn't just be part of another meal. He told us all about fermenting of the starter and how it is like fermenting wine, cheese or vinegar. Care must be taken. He told us how to make the starter & the basic key ingredients for bread. Flour, water, salt & yeast (the starter)/ It is really important to use local ingredients. And you must be gentle, take time & be patient. We were able to taste 3 amazing breads prepared for us. We had to smell the bread before tasting. You know if the bread is good because of the smell and because of the golden crust on top.
We tasted a bread called Emek, which was a sweet bread with a slight yellow colour. It was very soft, but with a golden crust on the outside/ We then tried a green tea and orange loaf. It was a little more sweet with a slight green tea flavour & candied orange peel scattered through the bread. And then raisin benoitons with moist, plump raisins though the bread.
There were a lot of people asking about gluten free bread. It seemed that Eric was not to worried about gluten free. They have only just started making it for his bakeries. But the question kept coming. Eric seemed to think that life as a coeliac would be quite miserable!
Inspired from all of this love of bread talk, I went and got myself a personally signed copy of Eric's book; The Larousse Book Of Bread.
Then off to a smaller room for a Masterclass on Gelato! From Gelato Messina, Donato Toce was running the class. And guess who happened to be joining us!? Maggie Beer!
Now with Gelato, it is all about balance. Balance of the sugars, balance of the fats.
Gelato is very different from Ice cream. It has less fat & less air than ice cream. It is almoast like chemistry. Depending on what your flavours are and how much sugars are in your ingredient, depends on how much of the sugars you add.
Also, the temperature & setting of the gelato can affect the texture. The longer the mixture takes to cool, the larger the ice crystals formed.
Now, to get less air in the gelato, you must use larger blades & a slower speed on your ice cream machine.
And you must use high quality milk and cream. No skim milks or low fats! If your not going to do it properly, don't make it at all!
So inspired again, i popped down to the bookshop to get a personally signed copy of Messina. And who might I bump into!? Maggie! She was just so lovely.
Now, I'm ready to run my own bakery & gelato shop!! Well, i am inspired to anyway.
Stay tuned for my blogs on baking bread & churning Gelato!