Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Semantics: disappointment, expectation and hardening the F up in Perth.

Bar & Tapas
Tell me, what does that suggest to you?
If you are European, especially Spanish or Catalonian it will be a strong suggestion, if Australian-Who-Has-Traveled it will be another thing, if it is Perth-CBD-Worker-Looking-For-A-Bar-And-A-Bite-After-Work it will be another.
Me - I'm a mongrel with my roots in north London, a few visits to Northern Spain at the very least. But I live in Perth.

So.... the chief thing I expected at was a) not to be kept waiting for 12 minutes for a glass of Tempranillo; one extra-odinarily pompous waiter took my order mutely, one inert bar-man and several intermittent staff later and I was forced to walk the 5 metres to the bar and pick up the glass myself. I know that this is hardly a hardship in the real world, I'm not waiting for clean water in a Haitian post-earthquake camp or anything, but still....

Bar AND Tapas.

This is a Bar
They choose to serve small portions of Mediterranean styllee food on mis-matched saucers and call it tapas (no baccalau, however the Berkshire pork cheek confit and scallops were good as were the chick-pea battered prawns - I presume that the chickpea element was besan flour).
But a Tapas Bar it is not.

This is a Tapas Bar

(I don't know who the pasty middle-aged woman at the end is)

The goods are on display, the dog can see the rabbit. There is no menu, one trusts the chef.

The wine is in tubs on the counter. One could help oneself, but one has an agreement with the Host; the customer will ask and the Host will pour at once. Not wait 12 minutes while the staff faff about.

This is tapas, this is what it looks like;
It ain't fancy, it's just the best of what the Host likes to serve.

That, mi amigo, is a plethora of fried protein coated in refined carbohydrate on sticks. Salty, crispy, delicious, honest. In the illuminated cabinet below is a selection of less robust items: vol-au-vents ( yes, vol-au-vents because they are popular and people like them and they contain a creamy, vinegary, filling perfectly) filled with crab remoulade, salami and potato salad, elvers and mayonnaise, need I go on?)

So, it is with initial trepidation over spoiling our evening yet resulting in the purity of an informed debate, that I suggest to my dinner date that either the term "bar and tappas" is misleading or that my European -flavoured expectations are simply out of place in this town. My dinner date works with words and concepts and design. He tells me the clue is in the punctuation; Bar amperzand Tapas. It is not a Tapas Bar. Well quite, I say, otherwise they would have had the cojones to put the tapas on display, right there in front of the booze whetting the appetite and assaulting the senses like a common street walker rather than coyly nestling between the leaves of a flock-wallpaper covered menu. Nor would one be at the mercy of the waiting staff but in the care of a Patron (pimp?) who is unashamedly displaying his wares.

Andaluz could be taken as a gravely disappointing misnomer, but as my dinner date reminds me,
this is a bar that does food in the middle of the Perth CDB. It is Wednesday night and it is buzzing: Job Done.
However I would be extremely interested to know how the seed of the vision of Andaluz started out in the owners' eyes. Seriously, I am very willing to have my European smugness knocked out of me. But I would advise that the owners tell the pot-wash guy not to leave the mop and tea-towel drop right outside the kitchen door. A small detail but nothing puts one off ones' head of veal and truffle oil dish like a dirty mop-head standing sentry at the kitchen.

I must share my delight at the growing numbers of Bars in Perth. Yes, a Bar. Where a grow-up can enter, sit or stand and buy a drink. It is heartening to see the stealth licensing laws are being used. And the interior decor of Andaluz is right on the pulse. The dark, bold hues of the walls and colour accents from vintage bric-a-brac is all the rage in the front parlours of Kensal Rise.

At the risk of sounding deeply condescending, and I really don't want to be that person as I do realise how fortunate I am to have got a permanent foot in the door of this country, I wonder if the owner's vision matched the end product his wait-staff supply. This is a mis-match I see time and time again in this city and I truly wonder why these gaps need appear. I am 99% certain the designer did not mean for the bar-staff to stash the paper wine lists on the lip of the gun-metal grey girder which frames the bar. Small details and hardly life nor death, but they must have mattered to someone somewhere along the line.
And speaking of lines, the bottom line is that I have to drive in from the 'burbs to Andaluz, I am not the tie-loosened white-shirted ideal customer looking for drink after work with a boudin noir rather than a pie for sustenance so really, what do I matter?

I would give Andaluz another crack, but with vastly different expectations.
Perhaps I just need to Harden The F* Up, Stefan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mint-Chocolate Mousse or Mum - did you get this from the Shop!? (compliment of the highest order)

I have two sons.
One will wolf down confit du canard, foie gras or tripe while the other turns his nose up at a croque monsieur at the same Parisian Bistro because it is "the wrong kind of cheese."
One will ask for Venison Pie for tea after a seeing the dvd of Bambi, while the other's idea of nirvana is to be let loose in a ball-pit filled with Twisties and Crinkle-Cut Chips.

So, it is something of a challenge to cook a meal that satisfies the polarised tastes my children demonstrate. Almost each day there are multiple dishes on offer simply because I cannot take the cruel sting of (food) rejection and I am irritated beyond measure when an empty refusenik stomach demands Milo cereal at 8pm. I pick my battles. However, I do feel the need to ease the fussy one in to a wider range of home-cooked and non-synthetic foods and I know that he has a sweet tooth. I shall, like Paris, loose my nutrtional-arrow in to his Achilles heel. My arrow will be tipped with Mint-chocolate Mousse.

It's not fancy. This is how I made it. And no money changed hand with Nestle, which is nice.

serves 4 children
125g mint-flavoured milk chocolate
25ml water
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
50g caster sugar
50ml very hot water
1 10g sachet of gelatine crystals
100ml thick/double cream
grated chocolate and piped cream (ideally from a squirty can to maximise effect) to decorate

small dishes

1. Melt the chocolate with the 25ml water in a bowl over simmering water
2. In another, larger bowl whisk the eggs, yolk and sugar together until frothy and thick

3. Dissolve the gelatine in the very hot water and add to the eggs and stir well

4. Stir in the cream and melted chocolate and pour in to individual dishes

5. Chill for 2 hours
6. Garnish with the cream and chocolate, and if you can get away with it fresh mint leaves
7. Decide whether you did get it from the shop and just decanted it to make yourself extra washing up, it's your call.

And this is the response: "Mum, did you get this from the Shop? Did you? It tastes fantastic, just like from the shop. Oh MUM you are so clever."

I bask in the glory and ignore the sugar eating away at his dentine. At least he has had eggs and milk. Plus I remember to snatch the mint-leaf garnish away before he sees it (everyone in Year 1 knows greenery=deadly poison). My other son finds it a tad bland. Neige aux Marrons Glaces for him tomorrow.

Girona, Catalonia - El Mercat Del Lleo.

Just across the street from our hotel in El Placa del Lleo is Girona's retail food market. This is the distribution centre for the city's fresh produce. What a joy to behold.
The purpose built hall houses wet, dry, cured, moist, slippery, crunchy, crispy and soft foods. Outside it is surrounded by produce stalls, the goods on which are of every shape and size.
Even putting the olfactory senses on hold, the visual ones are delighted fed and delighted admirably.

are these elvers or smelts?

We walk through, unable to buy anything to cook, but delighted that the chefs and cooks of the city just a short stroll ahead of us have been here far earlier on today and left with full bags.

The elvers on the tapas, I get a hard stare from my friend and to be honest I could take them or leave them but oh, how pretty they look.

54 different kinds of baccalau

Checking the provenance and sovereinty was impossible. The Catlans do not care to speak Spanish. They are NOT Spanish, no more Spanish than the French or Italians and they will NOT, by jingo, speak it unless pressed very hard. Therefore it was not EASY to strike up a casual conversation about the provenance of the monkfish, or the halva or the quinces. Even my friend Lucy ( who took these marvelous pictures) who learned her Spanish in the jungles of Peru could not elicit any information without resort to hand gestures. Plus as it was obvious we weren't buying and were merely passing through and these stall holders are busy, busy, busy.
retro-tastic butchers' stall
So I can only guess that all these treasures came from the surrounding hills and plains and shores. Certainly there were no gimmicks and every one buying looked doggedly assured that they knew precisley what treatment to give the familiar ingredients according to the day of the week and the complexion of the days' weather. In short, this produce is the backbone of the region and while there is definitely room for experimentation (after all Ferran Adria's El Bulli is but a stone's through), none of the cooks here want their supplies titivated or tarted up. This is where the every day cooks and the Post Modern Impressionist cooks come to fill their palettes.

When we reach the far side of the market, we are a tad peckish. We are now faced with the task of sifting through the immense number of choices of where to have lunch in this city. But it won't be too tricky, as long as we choose somewhere whose cook was at El Mercat Del Lleo earlier this morning, and left fully-laden with produce and inspiration.
and with that thought in mind we make our way to the Plaza del Independencia for a bite to eat

Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in the saddle, Mediterranean style

There has been a distinct malaise here at Crackling.
What could it be?
Homesickness? I've been back from Europe for 3 weeks now
Missing something I already have? Could be, but that is a little wet as a theory.
Bug picked up on the plane? Very possibly. Long Haul flights = big metal bird/pertri dish full of other people's germs.

Nothing's really cutting it these days.
Apart from breakfast bacon and eggs (can never go past that happy couple, particularly as my English butcher in Brentwood cures his own streaky)
My appetite for good food is low; pedestrian at best, white-trash at worst. Come midday I am eager for snickers bars and refined carbohydrates. Now I wouldn't usually tell anyone this but it may affect my usual integrity if I don't demonstrate how low I've sunk:- Cheese and Bacon Cheeto Balls with a topping of Kraft 1000 Island Dressing.
Little Else.

I am pining for the peppered smoked mackerel, the plaice, the damsons, my sister's Maran hens' eggs, the pork pies, the Wallace and Grommit range of cheeses and the common High Street Byriani amongst which I was submerged for three weeks. Two weeks with a short sabbatical to Catalonia and Oh! The tappas and the wine. Now so very far away.

Low and Flat. A bit like Belguim.

Until I stumble upon the latest series of No Reservations uploaded kindlyby Kumquasta on youtube. It is the Roma episode.
Even though he's a teeny tiny bit tame these days, Anthony Bourdain still gets me going. Is it the black suit and white shirt or the white suit and black shirt? Or the fundamentally European foods cultured in a fundamentally European way? In this episode Tony visits a rarified delicatessen in the back streets of the city and wallows head first in every kind of singularly European Goodness: milk'n'bacteria (whole fresh parmesan wheel), cured pork products (proscuitto), fermented rape juice (wine) and bread that makes a shattering, raspy noise when cut (hard, fermented, raised woodfired wheat). I can't put my finger on it precisely but it has all put its fingers on me.

I turn to my garden, store cupboard and the remainder of the Red Tail Ridge Olives:

Olive Oil
and Anchovies melted down
Garlic just with the raw edge taken off
Italian chopped plum tomatoes, drained - you must drain them - and
melted in the unctuous perfumed oil
Parsely, oregano.
One red birds eye chili
Cans of cannelini beans and borlotti beans
Hell, even a drained can of "sandwich flake"style supermarket tuna (scraped with a blade from the hulk of a beat far away in Thailand during a 12 hours shift, no doubt)
Warm body heat warm so the flavours can sing out.
It is right for lunch tomorrow with salad leaves and right for tossing through warm rigatoni.

Europe is at my fingertips once more. My appetite has been restored.
Now if only I could get my hands on the raw, sweet red wine from Girona, just right for Sangria. It doesn't even get to the wholesalers', the owners of this restaurant it up straight from the vinyard in the hills. More of that later.

I'm looking out over the Med again, fork in hand, thankful for what I have and the sun is shining. Thanks Tony, both of yous.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Excuse me while I compose myself

Now the jetlag and the ensuing laziness is wearing off, there is work behind the scenes of Crackling to bring reports and recipes from the UK, and Catalunya which is NOT Spain in case you didn't know.
So while you're waiting, feast your eyes on this premium Hampshire Hand-Raised Pork Pie.

a bien tot