Recipe: Chocolate Mousse

9 09 2010

Chocolate Mousse is one of those classic French Bistro desserts that sadly often tastes better in your memory when you choose it from the menu than it does on the spoon when you come to eat it.  Ordering it can be a bit of a roulette game and can cause disappointment.

Is this one of those places where it’s going to taste like it came out of a packet of instant whip, even if lovingly prepared from scratch? Or is this one of those places where they attempt to create a new classic, like George Calombaris (of The Press Club in Melbourne, and lately MasterChef) has done with his Olive Oil Chocolate Mousse? Or is this one of those numerous places where the tweaking fails and you leave disappointed.

Every recipe uses something to give the mousse its structure, and the most classic is whipped egg whites. Many restaurant kitchens won’t use raw eggs as a result of salmonella fears, which is where cream, gelatine (and olive oil!) come in. At home, so long as you’re comfortable with it, raw eggs will certainly give the best results.

This recipe is based on one from the Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery book by Rosemary Humes and Muriel Downes, (first published in 1963) and has been used in my family for years with great success.

When buying the chocolate you want a basic dark cooking chocolate, Bourneville, Cadbury Old Gold, Nestlé Club or something similar. The sugar content is important as it will taste too bitter if you use a smart 70%+ cocoa chocolate and you’ll end up fiddling about adding sugar.  The coffee is better brewed fresh rather than instant, but instant works OK. And vanilla essence comes in a range of strengths, so use your judgement. Less is more in most cases. And of course the eggs should be free range and organic, for flavour as much as anything else.

Ingredients (Serves 4 to 6)

  • 170g Dark Chocolate
  • 60ml Coffee
  • 15g Butter
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • A few drops Vanilla Essence

Method

  • Break the chocolate and melt in a pan with the coffee over a low heat. To be safer you could melt it over a double boiler, but so long as you go slowly and don’t turn the heat up too high it should be OK to do it straight over the heat.
  • Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak. For best results strain the whites first to remove the chalaza (the thicker bit that is attached to the yolk). It’s perfectly fine to eat, and it will still work if you don’t remove it, but it has a different texture when eaten.
  • Meanwhile stir the egg yolks into the melted chocolate/coffee mixture along with the butter and vanilla essence.
  • Pour the chocolate mixture into a seperate bowl and then fold in the egg whites carefully, thoroughly and quickly.
  • That’s it! Refrigerate in individual ramekin bowls overnight.




News: And then there were Three. The SMH Good Food Guide Awards.

7 09 2010

Who would have expected that this year’s SMH Good Food Guide Awards would be even more dramatic than last year? Last year Chui Lee Luk was demoted to Two Hats at Claude’s and last night it was the turn of Wakuda Tetsuya and Tony Bilson to lose a Hat each at their restaurants. Only est., Marque, and Quay kept their Three Hats.

Tetsuya is Australia’s Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, or Ferran Adrià, and his restaurant is regularly named as one of the best in the world. Bilson’s was the most recent member of the Three Hat Club, joining in 2007, only two years after opening, but Tony Bilson is one of the great figures on the Sydney restaurant scene since opening Berowra Waters Inn in the 1970′s.

There is much talk of this signalling an end to fine dining in Sydney. I hope that’s not the case. We have been spared the worst of the Global Financial Crisis in Australia, but a reaction to the GFC has been a move towards less formal dining. In New York and London the days of top-end fine dining restaurants being profitable only thanks to a handful of people spending an arm and a leg on wine are over. I hope that there will again be a place for crisp white tablecloths, large kitchen brigades, and armies of smartly uniformed but unobtrusive waiters.

That said I am a big fan of the focus on excellent produce and simple flavours that has spread through the Sydney dining scene in recent years. I’m pleased that the often clever for the sake of being clever phase of molecular gastronomy has passed and these highly scientific techniques are only used when they add something to the flavour of the food. People want to know where their food comes from, and they want to celebrate the produce rather than the chef’s ego, and I think that’s a good thing.

Movement over the years:

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Bilson’s

opened

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Claude’s

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u/s

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est.

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Guillaume at Bennelong

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Marque ☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆
MG Garage ☆☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ closed
Pier ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ -
Quay ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆
Rockpool ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆ ☆☆
Tetsuya’s ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆ ☆☆☆

☆☆

Notes: Bilson’s opened in 2004 and was unscored until 2005. Claude’s was unscored in 2005 being the year Chui Chee Luk took over from Tim Pak Poy. MG Garage closed its doors in 2006. Pier returned its three hats in 2010.

So what happened to Tetsuya’s and Bilson’s? Did they drop the ball or did the rules of the game change? I suspect the latter, with perhaps an element of Terry Durrack marking his territory as the returning chief critic at the SMH.

I do hope that next year will see another shakeup at the lower levels. The field is now particularly diverse at the Two Hat level. Four in Hand for instance is a great restaurant and thoroughly deserves its two hats, but it’s not on the same level as Tetsuya’s. As you can see from the table above, the remaining Three Hatters all had Three Hats in 2004. It’s about time we had some new blood at the top.

Tom





Review: Neutral Bay Bar & Dining

4 09 2010

Neutral Bay has long been home to lots of fantastic Asian restaurants, particularly Japanese. However until recently there hasn’t been much else to choose from, especially in the evenings.

That has changed in the last couple of years with several new restaurants opening. Neutral Bay Bar & Dining is the latest, though it has good heritage being the sister restaurant of the inner west Glebe Point Diner.

It has a reasonably narrow shop front looking onto busy Military Road, and you could easily walk past it if you weren’t on the look out for it. That would be a mistake. Walk through the modestly sized bar at the front and you come to a sparkly modern dining room divided by high-backed wooden pews with an open kitchen along the left hand side. It’s a fresh clean space but the booth-like tables lend it a warmth and cosiness.

That clean, fresh, and modern, but yet warm and cosy feeling flows through to the food as well. You get the feeling that the food comes first here, and while there is plenty of skill and finesse in its production, there’s very little of the chef’s ego on the plate. Chef and part-Owner Alex Kearns previously worked at Bondi’s Sean’s Panoroma, famous for its use of fresh seasonal produce, and that influence extends here. Lesser but more interesting cuts are used, such as a Flat Iron steak. Actually it’s unusual that they’ve called it Flat Iron, it comes from the shoulder of the animal and is more commonly called Oyster Blade.

There are half a dozen options to start with, along with some larger dishes to share. We started with a charcuterie board of prosciutto, salumi and capicollo from Pino’s Dolce Vita who make and source the most amazing smallgoods including from pork from Bangalow.  Very simple but very good. We also ordered the salted blue-eye fritters were crispy but still moist in the middle. The tomato jam they came with was a good foil for the saltiness of the fish.

Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie Board

Main courses are divided into four sections.  “Mains” are mostly slow cooked homely dishes. “Pasta, Grain and Egg” included a more exciting than normal vegetarian option of pearl barley with artichoke, peas, nettle and pecorino.  “From the Grill”  had three steaks including the above-mentioned flat iron, and a ginormous 700g T-bone. “Fish” is well, fish. The menu is probably best described as “Modern Australian” but there are clear Italian influences, but pizza and pasta joint this isn’t.

Braised Kurobuta Pork Neck

Braised Kurobuta Pork Neck

I chose the slow cooked Kurobuta pork neck. Kurobuta is otherwise known as Berkshire pork. The meat was perfect, just the right amount of fat and tender pork with a couple of pieces of crispy crackling. Presentation wasn’t amazing as you can see, but that didn’t really matter, this isn’t really that sort of place.

There were only three dessert-sized desserts to choose from but there are also a handful of “small treats” and petits fours to have with coffee.

Pear & Raspberry Soufflé and Baked Chocolate Pudding

Pear & Raspberry Soufflé and Baked Chocolate Pudding

My criticism of the wine list is rather superficial – there’s a closely typed page each of whites and reds and no obvious demarkation between varieties or regions. However on closer inspection it becomes clear that the wines are grouped by variety and style. It’s an impressive list of mostly boutique wineries, about half Australian and half from overseas, mostly European. The majority are under $70 a bottle. They’re not necessarily cheap, but they’re certainly reasonably priced.

The service was good overall. Our original waiter was friendly and knowledgeable, speedy but without being pushy or getting in the way, but then he disappeared, called to the bar to help out there. For the last hour we had no one looking after us and had to flag down passing waiters to order dessert and get the bill. They also have made the decision not to lay the tables, so cutlery and glassware is produced from the clever storage shelves at the end of each bench when you sit down. This works well and gives it a more casual ambiance, but it was a shame that empty tables weren’t wiped down sooner after people left. Plus points though go to the bathrooms and their Aesop soap!

All in all a solid neighbourhood restaurant I’d be happy to go back to time and time again.

Overall Score: 12½/20
F: 5½, W: 2½, S: 2, A:X: 1 (scoring system)

Tom

Address: 132 Military Road, Neutral Bay NSW 2089
Web: http://www.nbbaranddining.com.au/
Phone: 02 9953 5853
Open: Dinner Wednesday to Sunday, Lunch Friday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Chef: Alex Kearns





Review: The Counter Burger – Custom Built Burgers

30 08 2010

Phew, back in Australia. Well it feels like I’ve been to the US, when in fact I just went north to The Counter, a little slice of America in Crows Nest.  I’m not normally that interested in something that could be described as a “family restaurant”. Apart from the fact that that’s how Maccas positions itself, eating out surrounded by other people’s kids isn’t my scene. But needs must, and I was on the north shore in need of a burger.

And did I find a burger. The top half of the menu is a pick your own questionnaire, first of all you choose from Beef, Turkey, Chicken or Vegetarian, then the size (150g, 300g or a whopping 450g), a choice of 10 cheeses, including “imported swiss” whatever that is, 18 toppings, 10 premium toppings, 17 sauces and 3 sorts of burger bun. It’s reasonably priced for a gourmet burger on the lower north shore – $14.90 for the perfectly adequate 150g, $17.90 for a filling 300g and an eye-watering $21.90 for a challenging 450g. Four regular toppings, one cheese, and one sauce are included. You can even ditch the bread and have it in a bowl with salad if you’re watching the carbohydrates.

Did I mention carbs? Chips, sorry fries, are nice and crisp, but come in a ginormous portion that would serve at least three. Other options include Sweet Potato Chips and excellent Crispy Fried Onion Strings, and the “Fifty-Fifty” which is half chips, half onion rings.  In fact the onion rings are the clear winner of the meal. Finely sliced floured and deep-fried slightly caramelised onion rings are crispy and perfectly seasoned (in contrast to the chips which are over salty).

The burger itself was made from good quality meat, but somehow it missed the spot. You can probably blame user error for that really as I chose clashing options from the multiple-choice menu. There is much to be said for a pre-defined menu with choices that work well together as designed by a proper chef. Oh, what? I am a chef? As I said. User error.

Did I say it felt like an American restaurant? What could be more American than Apple Pie on the menu? Well, um, an Apple Pie Milkshake.  I’m sorry, I didn’t have the balls to order one!

As for service, well it was friendly and adequate. Nothing special but competent.

All in all, would I rush back? Nope. There are as good/better gourmet burgers around the place. Would I be happy to go back at some unspecified time in the future? Yup. Probably.

Overall grade: C+.

Tom

Address: 118 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest NSW 2065
Web: http://www.thecounterburger.com/crowsnest/
Tel: 02 9436 2700
Open: Lunch and Dinner Thursday to Sunday, Dinner Tuesday to Sunday.





Welcome

14 08 2010

Life rather took over and this site has been dormant for too long. The last post was in 2005, and much has changed since. In fact many of the places I reviewed have closed or changed, and five year old reviews are unreliable at best. I’ve decided to make a fresh start and have deleted everything.

I hope you enjoy reading SF☆.

Tom








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