Archive for the ‘restaurants’ Category

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Universal admiration

July 24, 2012

A Love & Hunger dinner at Universal Restaurant

One of the cool things about writing books is that through them you get to meet some fantastically interesting people – and I am so excited that Christine Manfield, the renowned chef and cookbook author from Sydney’s Universal Restaurant (anyone see Christine on Masterchef the other week?), has invited me to speak at a special dinner at her restaurant.

It’s on Wednesday, August 8 and is extra special because Christine has invited Alex Herbert, former chef at one of my favourite restaurants Bird Cow Fish (which Alex closed earlier this year) to cook with her.

Together, Christine and Alex are coming up with a four-course menu “inspired by” Love & Hunger  – but I can tell you now the food we’ll eat that night will be far more wondrous than any of the recipes in my book!

If you’d like to go, tickets are available now at a very reasonable $100 per head, which includes four courses and wine by Ulithorne wines by Rose Kentish, as well as a reading by One.

I would so love to meet any How To Shuck An Oyster readers there, so if you do come, make sure you say hi, okay?

Bookings are being taken now via Universal’s website http://www.universalrestaurant.com/home.html, by email eat@universalrestaurant.com or phone (02) 9331 0709.

Tell your friends!

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How to make a vegetarian smile, pt I

September 15, 2010

Earlier this year I happened to be travelling for a week in the company of two vegetarians, and was shocked by the severely limited options they had in restaurants.

In South Australia, a state famed for its quality gourmet produce (Maggie Beer and Gay Bilson live there, for godsake!), my companions were constantly given the evil eye by staff in cafes and restaurants for asking for non-meat options. I was stunned. As a meat eater, I realised how little attention I generally pay to whether a restaurant menu has more than one (usually pasta or risotto) vegetarian dish. And on my buddies’ behalf, I grew increasingly angry. For just as meat-eaters generally like to vary their diets with different kinds of protein and carbs, so do vegetarians. But time and again I saw these extremely polite and tolerant people being offered either a boring green salad containing no carbs or protein at all, or a bowl of pasta. And when you’re travelling and staying in hotels, that means eat pasta twice a day or go hungry.

The attitude of restaurant staff was another nasty shock – the suggestion that not everyone eats meat seemed to be taken as a personal insult, with the result that whatever was eventually provided was done so grudgingly, the food hastily shoved on a plate with minimal effort at presentation,  and dumped on the table with a punitive sneer, usually long after everyone else had their meals delivered. Take that, freak. And now pay for it.

Since then, I’ve asked lots of vegetarians what they think are the biggest culinary faux pas they’ve come across, either in restaurants or at friends’ houses for dinner. To a person, they have been keen not to sound critical or fussy, and said that any vego food cooked by friends is always fine, and a bowl of pasta or risotto is perfectly lovely. But their views on restaurants are another matter, as discussed in this week’s Sydney Morning Herald Good Living. I mean, it’s not as if a restaurant doesn’t have lots of great ingredients sitting there in the kitchen, and it is a pretty simple matter to chuck a few chickpeas or lentils in a salad or other dish. But I’m told vegetarians are still routinely offered seafood, things cooked in chicken stock, bacon (“You do eat bacon, right?”) or punished with rock-hard vegetables, vegie burgers dripping in meat juices or even – I kid you not – microwaved instant noodles. The ones in a packet. The ones that look and taste and smell like nuclear waste.

I don’t get it. If you’re a chef, I’d have thought that having some exciting and original meat-free dishes on the menu is all part of the fun of the job. My most stringently vego friend, tells me, for example, that she went wild with joy at the complex and interesting dishes to be found on the menu at our pal Hamish’s gorgeous M On the Bund restaurant in Shanghai.

Another thing I’ve been surprised by is how frightened some people seem to be of cooking for vegetarians at home. I do understand some fear of vegan cooking – without eggs or dairy the options are much more limited – but for your garden-variety vegetarian it’s really pretty easy. The most obvious route is the pasta or risotto option and I’ve done it many a time. But these days, just for interest’s sake, I try to come up with something a little more complex when vegetarians come to dinner, and provide at least a bit of protein (think nuts, the beloved lentil, dried bean or chickpea, or tofu & tempeh if you’re a bit more adventurous), a bit of dairy, some contrasting textures and some complex, kickarse flavours. A while ago, Stonesoup had a fantastic post on how to host a vegetarian feast, in which you’ll find lots of hints on cooking great veg food for guests. Interestingly, Jules’ musing on that topic was prompted by a veg friend bemoaning the ubiquity of vegetarian lasagne in her life, and others tell me that even in otherwise reasonable places, veg food tends to fall into the categories of cheesy stodge or textureless slop – which takes me back to the time I thought I hated lentils because of the flavourless yellow slop passed off as dahl in just-left-home share houses of old. Ugh.

Bah. Enough ranting. In the next post I’ll provide a menu for the last decent vego dinner I made. But in the meantime, I’d love your views. If you don’t eat meat, what makes your eyes light up on a restaurant or dinner party menu? And what makes your blood boil? If you are carnivorous, what are your best recipes for your vego mates?


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A bit on the side: roast cauli & chickpea salad

July 21, 2010

The other day, with a whole heap of folks coming to dinner, I had one of those crises of confidence in which you are suddenly convinced there won’t be enough food.

In our case this is almost always wrong (as indeed it turned out to be this time), but nevertheless the point came during the afternoon before a biggish gathering when Senor and I stood together peering into a huge pot (of Neil Perry’s cinnamon lamb) and asked each other, ‘Do you think there’ll be enough?’

Of course there was. But during that moment of doubt I recalled that in the fridge were a cauliflower and half a bunch of spinach, and the cupboard always has chickpeas. And I had for weeks wanted to try making a version of a delectable simple chickpea, silverbeet & cauliflower number I’d eaten twice now at Bodega (the Surry Hills tapas restaurant which I reckon must have some of the most blindingly delicious and original food in Sydney).

So I gave a version of this salad a try, as a little side dish to go with the tagine and the couscous, and it was not half bad. Next time I’d make the cauliflower florets larger as mine became a little too soft (and the Bodega cauli is deep-fried, I think, rather than roasted), but I have to say the flavour and texture was quite delicious. It’s a perfect quick side dish and chock full of goodness.

Roast cauliflower, spinach & chickpea salad

  • olive oil
  • ½ bunch English spinach, stems finely chopped & leaves roughly torn
  • ½ head cauliflower, broken into smallish florets
  • 1 cans chickpeas, very well drained
  • salt
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
  • tsp cumin
  • juice 1 lemon
  • few sprigs coriander, to garnish
  1. Break cauliflower into small florets, toss in a bowl with a good few glugs of olive oil till well coated, then spread over a baking tray and roast in a hot oven for around 30 mins or until golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over high heat and add drained chickpeas. Add salt & agitate in the pan until the chickpeas are well coated and begin to turn golden.
  3. Remove chickpeas with a slotted spoon to kitchen paper.
  4. Finely chop the spinach stems and add to the hot oil, fry till the pieces begin to crisp. Turn off the heat and add the leaves until they wilt.
  5. Gently mix the chickpeas, roasted cauliflower and spinach with the garlic  in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and cumin, adjusting to taste.
  6. Serve with a little chopped coriander to garnish.

And now, friends of the oyster, I am taking a fortnight away from blogging – am off to a writing retreat to try to finish my novel. See you soon!

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Eager for Uighur

August 21, 2009

stephuighurThis week’s column from the Empress in Good Living is a beauty, and extra fun for us to read because we were crash test dummies for one of these Chinese muslim restaurants with her – the Western Orient in Hurstville. It’s loads of fun going on these excursions (as we’ve discussed before, it’s so easy to get geographically locked into your own tiny suburban area of this city), and I can vouch for the divinity of everything Steph mentions in her Western Orient review.

The waitress, Candy, and her mum, the hidden chef, were incredulous that a bunch of gweilos would enjoy their fare. But once we convinced Candy that we actually really would like the noodles that she insisted were ‘better for Chinese people, not Australians’, she became our new best friend and recommended all sorts of goodies.

After the meal the Empress went to do her ‘candid camera moment’, where she tells the restaurateurs she wants to feature a dish of theirs, and which is always nice to witness as they get very excited. And this time, once that bit was done and we’d paid the bill and were about to leave, Candy returned to the table with a giant tureen of “Egg FlowerSoup”, compliments of her mum. As we were all completely stuffed, we groaned inwardly at the idea we had to eat yet more food, although obviously couldn’t insult the hostess by refusing. But at the first spoonful, an expression of utter ecstasy came over every face at that table, and then it was a fight to the death for the rest of the soup. The clearest, most delicate chicken broth with an egg-whitey streak, it was simply unfrickingbelievable.

And the rest of the meal, as detailed in the Empress’s column, was excellent too. She also visited two other fab-sounding Chinese Muslim joints too – so go along and check one out.

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Say cheese (cake)

August 12, 2009

This week the Empress’s Good Living column discusses the only dessert apart from chocolate that I am officially in love with – cheesecake:

stephcheesecakeThink cheesecake and most of us have an image of the high American baked versions, rich with cream cheese, eggs and sugar. Sometimes known as Lindy’s cheesecake, after a now-defunct New York restaurant, it rests on a buttery base of crushed biscuits, flavoured with citrus rind and often topped with fruit compote. Even though there are more cheesecake recipes from the US than anywhere else, other cultures have their own versions using other cream cheeses.

To follow her investigations of the best three cheesecakes in Sydders, check out her column here.

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Love that lasagne

July 22, 2009

stephlasagneI have always loved a good lasagne myself – but a really good one is hard to find, no? Not for the Empress though – she winkles out three excellent versions of lasagne in this big wide city in her  SMH Good Living Three-of-a-Kind column for this week, online now. Says she:

Lasagne is believed to be the earliest form of pasta, which makes sense given the flat sheets result from simple rolling. But it isn’t always layered with bolognaise and bechamel sauce; there’s a more elaborate version, known as vincisgrassi, which can contain sweetbreads or other offal, spices, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto or a combination.

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Oriental Empress gets her pot hot

July 16, 2009

stephhotpotThe online bods at SMH like to keep things lively in terms of the Empress’s weekly column (now it’s there, now it isn’t. Happily this week Steph is there in full living colour with a spot on Chinese hotpots. She writes:

Huddling over a huge communal bowl of steaming broth, poaching meats, vegetables and noodles may qualify as the perfect way for a group of friends to spend a winter’s evening. Some believe the poaching technique originated in Mongolia, while others argue it’s unlikely, given the people’s nomadic ways and the need for specialised pots and equipment. Szechuan residents are also strong contenders for the inventors’ crown.

So pop along to Good Living and check it out.  Incidentally, I’m excited today for a couple of reasons. First, I just ate the best lazy person’s lunch I’ve had in ages – a can (greedy!) of chickpeas mixed with the Empress’s famous tomato oil pickle and a dollop of yoghurt – oh my, it was good.

Second, we get to go goodfood hunting with her tonight – Uighur Chinese in Hurstville. Uighur food is amazing – kind of Turkish Muslim influence, I believe, yet Chinese. You may have only heard the word Uighur because of the recent horrific violence in China between Uighurs (Muslim folks) and Han Chinese. But don’t let that obscure the fact of peaceful relations here in Oz, with Uighur restaurants happily dotted through Chinatown and elsewhere. MMMmmm.

*Postscript: Speaking of the above, Sydney PEN (of which I’m a proud member) has put out a statement today condemning the astounding attempt by the Melbourne Chinese consulate to censor the Melbourne International Film Festival by demanding it remove a film about a Uighur activist from its program. Foolish of course (the film has now got huge publicity as the story is covered all over the mainstream media from here to Britain), but also creepy. Check out Sydney PEN’s statement here.