Oblivious and care free, Rosemary took a wrong turn down the dark alley, only to be faced by two men of Middle-Eastern appearance.
My father tells me the story of a Bedouin man walking on the street with ten dead crows. A walker-by, fascinated by the murder of dead crows, stops the Bedouin to enquire as to the reason he is carrying the birds. “They’re to be eaten of course”, comes the Bedouin’s simple reply. Slightly intrigued, but more horrified, the walker-by insists on finding out more information. “But surely crows can’t be eaten. They are foul creatures with tough, flavourless meat. Bedouins are truly strange folk for eating crows!” he answered. The Bedouin smiles and replies, “Crow’s meat simply needs a deft hand at cooking. First, you feather and clean the bird, removing its guts. Then you take the meat from the bones and discard the bones, as they impart a bad flavour. Then, you mix some flour, salt and cinnamon and cover the meat with it. After pan-frying the bird, you deglaze with lemon juice, and add some olive oil, garlic and coriander, which you fry until the garlic turns golden. Toss the fried meat back in, top with fried pine nuts and experience heaven with some bread and arak”. The walker-by replies, “Great recipe! Do you think it would work equally as well if I used my leather shoes instead of the crows?”
Okay, I admit it’s not the funniest story in the world, but I love my dad, and I love his stories. And this little tale makes for a nice lead in to today’s recipe, cauliflower with tahini and pine nuts. You must agree that cauliflower isn’t the most delicious of vegetables. Boiled, I may go as far as calling it insipid and even downright disgusting. I can’t swallow an unadorned floret of cauliflower without the tapioca rising in my gullet. But deep-fried cauliflower? Praise the Lord! Just like the inedible crow, some skill can turn this figurative frog into a delicious prince. This is the true essence of alchemy. Glittering gold from lowly lead, dazzling diamonds from dirty coal, wonderful butterflies from waggling worms. Paulo Coelho should have written books about this transformation instead. Imagine, white florets devoid of flavour, worthless and well-hated, diving down into the oil, a baptism of fire, and rising once more, darker, crisper, and sweeter than any vegetable that ever took the plunge. Coat them with thick, creamy tahini, sharp with lemon and hot with garlic, top with fried pine nuts and experience heaven with some bread and arak.
Another year, and another great set of results for the 2011 SMH Good Food Guide Awards. But first, I have to apologise on the shoddiness of my photo. I didn’t want to lug around an SLR, so my phone had to do the trick. This year, the awards were held at Water Bar, Woolloomooloo, a much smaller and more intimate venue than last year’s at Carriageworks, Eveleigh. I don’t know whether it was Dutch courage or the fact that I hadn’t just arrived from a 24 hour flight, but this year’s awards night was more of a relaxed affair for myself, and I got to speak to some awesome chefs and restaurateurs. The GFG Editors Joanna Savill and Terry Durack highlighted that this year, Sydney restaurants saw a shift towards produce driven menus and sharing plates (among other trends). The big shock for the night was the demotion of Bilson’s and Tetsuya’s to two hats. Mark Best, last year’s Chef of the Year, took away the Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year award with Martin Benn claiming the Chef of the Year award. Everyone who received an award came up to stage and had a brief speech while we munched on some tasty treats (and some not too tasty) and drank way more wine than we ought to have drunk.It’s worth mentioning that the 2011 GFG is available online at goodguides.com.au. There will also be an iPhone app, which is awesome. Last year I bought the 2010 iPhone app and I think it’s super useful, but apparently this year, we should also be able to do our restaurant bookings through the website and possibly the app as well, which is even better!
But without further ado, here is the full list of awards winners and hatted restaurants for the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2011. Congratulations to all the winners!
Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year
Marque, Surry Hills
Emirates Chef of the Year
Martin Benn of Sepia, Sydney
Plumm Wine Glasses Best New Restaurant
Manly Pavillion, Manly
Navman Best Regional Restaurant
Lochiel House, Kurrajong Heights
Star City Award for Professional Excellence
Peter Doyle of est., Sydney
The Sydney Morning Herald Silver Service Award
Alon Sharman of Arras, Walsh Bay
Louis Roederer Sommelier of the Year
Matthew Dunne of Aria, Sydney
Brown Brothers Wine List of the Year
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney
Small Wine List of the Year
Spice Temple, Sydney
Regional Wine List of the Year
The Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef
Jason Saxby of Quay, Sydney
Vittoria Legend Award
Michael McMahon of Catalina, Rose Bay
Sydney Fish Market Best Seafood Restaurant
Fish Face, Darlinghurst
Dan Murphy’s Best BYO Restaurant
Il Perugino, Mosman
Coopers Sustainability Award
iPhone App People’s Choice Award
Favourite bar – LL Wine & Dine, Potts Point
Favourite bar with food – Bloodwood, Newtown
Favourite breakfast – Cafe Giulia, Chippendale
Favourite burger – Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney
Favourite cafe – Le Monde, Surry Hills
Favourite gelato – Pompei’s, Bondi Beach
Favourite pizza – Lucio Pizzeria, Darlinghurst
Favourite pub – Four in Hand, Paddington
Favourite sushi – Sake Restaurant & Bar, The Rocks
Favourite vegetarian menu – Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Surry Hills
est., Marque, Quay
Aria, Assiette, Becasse, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Berowra Waters Inn, Bilson’s, Bistro Ortolan, Buon Ricordo, Claude’s, Four in Hand Dining Room, Guillaume at Bennelong, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, Lucio’s, Pilu at Freshwater, Rockpool, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sepia, Tetsuya’s, Universal
Ad Lib Bistro, Altitude, Arras, Astral, Billy Kwong, Bird Cow Fish, Bistro Moncur, Bistrode, The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Bodega, buzo trattoria, Cafe Sopra, Catalina, Etch, Fish Face, Flying Fish, Golden Century, Jonah’s Whale Beach, Koi, Longrain, Mad Cow, Manly Pavilion, Omerta, Ormeggio at The Spit, Oscillate Wildly, Otto Ristorante, Pendolino, Pier, Restaurant Balzac, sailors thai restaurant, Sake Restaurant & Bar, Sean’s Panaroma, Spice Temple, Yoshii
Lochiel House (Kurrajong Heights), Rock (Pokolbin)
ashcrofts (Blackheath), Bacchus (Newcastle), Bamboo Restaurant & Bar (Casuarina Beach), bells at killcare (Killcare), Bistro Molines (Mount View), Caveau (Woollongong), dish (Byron Bay), Darley’s (Katoomba), Eschalot (Berrima), fins (Kingscliff), Italian and Sons (Canberra), Lolli Redini (Orange), Muse (Pokolbin), Neila (Cowra), No. 2 Oak Street (Bellingen), Ottoman Cuisine (Canberra), Restaurant Como (Blaxland), Satiate (Bangalow), sourcedining (Albury), Waters Edge (Canberra), Zest (Nelson Bay)
Don’t you love Friday lunches? Me and the guys (and girl) at the office desperately do, as, with the working week almost over, we feel like we are owed something for having survived. So we usually indulge with some sort of guilty treat and more than likely finish up by buying some macarons from Lindt; or if we are feeling extra depressed, ice cream may be in order. For some reason, the burden of choice is usually on me, though the team is full of foodies, and I have to struggle to continuously find somewhere new and interesting for the guys to try out. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been dreaming about going to Mamak. To make things worse, I’ve been there several times, only to be met by a long queue of thirty or so hungry zombies with the same culinary affliction I have. I would have waited, but those who I convince to come with me to Mamak always decide that they would rather not wait. They’ve never been there before, so they don’t know what they’re missing, and as such, no amount of pleading would give them sufficient reason to queue up, take a chance and try the food.
Mamak is a Malaysian restaurant on Goulburn Street in Sydney’s Chinatown . They specialise in roti: flat, layered, buttery breads served with simple curry sauce for dipping. The prices are ridiculously cheap, with a basic roti at $5, but the food is awesome. I’ve become really intrigued by Malaysian food because of the many influences it demonstrates, but in particular, I’m very interested in the Arab and Persian influence on Malaysian cuisine. I won’t go to too much detail here, as my Malaysian friends would scream if I told them that laksa was originally Persian.
Not that ayam berempah is Persian or Arab or anything, but still, I want to talk to you about Mamak’s version of this miracle, or, as Google translates it, spicy chicken. This Friday, we got the guys together and left for a very early lunch which helped in beating the queues (but only by a split second). I went all the way with rotis and shared three different types with Priscila, but Erikson went for the ayam berempah, and when that arrived, I started drooling. The smell was intoxicating and the chicken looked unbelievable! Mamak’s ayam berempah is a plate of glorious, crunchy, super-spiced chicken, fried on the bone and served with more whole spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise. With one bite, I knew I had to make this dish.
Without harping on, this is my first attempt, using my memory from what I had yesterday and combining it with the hundred or so recipes I’ve seen online. One tip I want to give you: use chicken marylands (thigh and drumstick) cut into bite sized pieces with the bone attached, because it will retain its moisture and the bone will add extra flavour. Also, make sure the skin is on because it crisps up amazingly well, as the cornstarch, egg and spices stick to it. I served this with coconut rice, just as is. If you feel you need more sauce, though not traditional, a splash of soy does wonders. Or if you have sambal, go for it!
Mix, marinate then deep or shallow fry.
I have a love hate relationship with Sydney. I often consider the series of events that lead me to live in the city that is possibly the furthest away from Lebanon; a city where I don’t know my neighbours; a city where it seems that all I do is work; a city where you are fighting astronomical odds to have a chance encounter with an old friend. To a visitor, after seeing the Opera House and The Harbour Bridge, one is left to ponder what to do next. There is little excitement about being here. Let’s face it. Sydney can be boring. That’s why many restaurants in the CBD do not operate on weekends. No one wants to be here unless it’s for work. But every once in a while, Sydney throws a day like this at you: sunny, warm, clear and invigorating. Yesterday was one of these days (and today is even better), and on those days, I LOVE Sydney. I took a lunch time stroll to the Royal Botanical Gardens and happy snapped away. This is my first real outing with my new camera and I’ve never taken nature and wildlife photos before. What do you think of my photographic prowess?
Pork. Has there ever been a kind of meat more versatile? Has there ever been a kind of meat that has been the subject of this much godly wrath? No. There hasn’t. Let me start by declaring my love for pork. Pigs are wonderful animals; apart from making great pets, and having loads of character, they are the symbol for nose to tail eating. Every part of the pig can be used in some delicious, mouth-watering way, including, well, a pig’s nose and tail. The meat is delicious, the bones make fantastic stock (and ramen!), the skins makes a cracking crackle, the fat affords itself to unbelievable roast potatoes, the blood makes bloody great black puddings, the offal is stuffed into sausages and terrines, the trotters walk with pride into any soup; and perhaps the greatest ingredient in the world, jamon iberico (Iberian ham) de bellota would not exist without the pig. I love pork. I truly do. But here’s the thing: in reality, I’ve only really started eating pork when I came to Australia. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone! Here’s why I’ve missed out on 20 years of porky delights.
Consider the map of Lebanon above, surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Though feuding nations, the major religions of Lebanon’s two neighbours – Syria and Israel/Palestine (what’s the PC term?) – seem to agree on one thing: No Pork. Lebanon itself is a country that is around half Muslim, so fresh pork is never seen in the supermarket or at the butchers. Back when I was growing up, the only pork products one could get was stock standard ham and mortadella. At least, that’s what my father used to buy. The closest thing to fresh pork that I had tried was a wild boar that our friend and neighbour Mohammad killed on a hunting trip. Mohammad, as the name suggests, wouldn’t eat the wild boar, so he gave it to dad, his best friend. Dad got a Christian butcher to cut the pig up, and we invited the whole family over for a barbeque and a feast. It was awesome; the freshest of charcoaled, moist, full-flavoured free range meat – an experience to remember even 15 years later.
Cooking pork is not something I do too often, as I try to watch the waistline (expand). The tastiest bits of the pork are the fatty meats and the skin. When roasted for 6 hours, this pork shoulder becomes fork tender, flaky and just falls apart. You simply want to gnaw into it, crunching into the crisp crackling, sucking on the fatty under layer and shredding into the meat – but I did one better. When added to the fillings of a shawarma, our awesome roast pork makes a fine substitute for lamb. Lainy even thinks it makes a better shawarma than lamb does. Imagine the soft meat, the glass-like shattering crackle, the fattiness, all mixed in with creamy, lemony tahini, parsley, mint, sumac rubbed onions, pickles and a final punch of chilli. It doesn’t get much better. Try it. You’ll find you can’t stop till you’ve completely pigged out!
I roasted my pork shoulder the Jamie Oliver way. It’s sooo good. Check out his recipe here. It’s worth mentioning that using a bread knife makes scoring the pork skin much more easy, if your butcher doesn’t do it for you. I have a bit of a lazy butcher.
Make the tarator by mixing crushed garlic with lemon juice, tahini, salt and water. It needs to be thick but not too thick. Try to balance out the flavours depending on your brand of tahini. Use a Lebanese tahini as we make the best in the world, of course. Get some Lebanese bread, add some onions that are rubbed with sumac (here sumac is optional), chopped parsley, chopped mint (not traditional but I love it with pork), the tarator sauce, the shredded pork, some crackling, pickled chillis and pickled gherkins or cucumbers. Ready, set, destroy!
Very few moments in life are impossible to describe. As emotions that are never before experienced start permeating our being, we stretch and reach for words to explain those torrential feelings, but the vocabulary fails, its limits falling too short, and we are left with a sweeping joy that is only ours to enjoy, only ours to understand. On Sunday the 18th of July, I was granted one of those moments and my heart, full of bliss, grew to unfathomable proportions; my daughter Sara Isabelle was born and went straight into her mother’s arms. All the love I had ability to hold within me multiplied ten-fold, repeatedly. In the fortnight that has passed, my euphoria has changed like burning coals, starting off fiery and unruly then moving on to becoming more focused and concentrated, burning with greater intensity to never extinguish. I’m not sure if there is any greater recipe for happiness than that of becoming a father to this blue-eyed girl.