Foodvixen does The Fat Duck, Bray
When I booked our lunch at The Fat Duck back in March I was sitting at my computer in my lounge room waiting for the clock to roll over to 12 noon UK time. After I missed out on the ballot for The Fat Duck when they came to Melbourne I figured I had to at least try and get into the original one in the UK. As the clock rolled over and I watched spaces fill up before my eyes I managed to snavel a 1pm lunch time booking. I thought lunch time would be the best option because it was going to be a 3 hour return trip from where we were staying in Stoke Newington to Bray, plus you’re told to allow 4 hours for your dining ‘experience’ so taking all that into account I didn’t want to be getting back home after midnight.
To make the booking I had to pay the cost of the degustation in advance via credit card (just over AUD$990 for two people) whereas the drinks and a 12.5% service charge (as if the cost of the meal wasn’t enough) would be tacked onto the bill post meal. Yes I know it’s not a cheap meal and many people will most likely scoff at the cost but food and food blogging is my life and I don’t really have any other vices that I spend my money on. I don’t drink (except maybe a couple of glasses of wine when out at dinner), I don’t gamble (other than an Oz Lotto ticket once a week) and I don’t have a shoe addiction (although I do like my Nike’s). Our meal at The Fat Duck is by far the most expensive meal we have ever had, only comparable to a degustation at Shannon Bennett’s restaurant Vue De Monde in Melbourne back in 2013.
Alright, now the housekeeping is out of the way I’ll move onto our afternoon at The Fat Duck. We caught the train from Paddington to Maidenhead Station, which is the closest train station to Bray. We arrived far too early but I’ll be damned if I was late for this important lunch. In the meantime we had coffee at Britain’s answer to Coffee Club, Costa Coffee and used their free wifi. When the time came we caught the cab a short distance (maybe 10 minutes) to the small town of Bray. The cab driver dropped us off at the given address and despite seeing signage for the Fat Duck deliveries and parking we couldn’t see a sign for the actual restaurant. That was until I spied a smartly dressed woman with a clip board standing out the front of a two story white house with heavy blinds covering the windows.
She showed us in and we stood in a small dark room with a hologram while we waited to be shown to our table by our French server Julien. Behind the door is not quite what I was expecting… A small relaxed room with timber posts and low ceilings, about 20 or so round tables decked out in white tablecloths.
There must have been about 20 servers that we counted in total, most of which delivered one thing or another to our table over the duration of our meal. Firstly we were greeted by the lovely female Sommelier who gave us a small tour through of the wine menu. There was wine by the glass, wine by the bottle and of course wine tasting menus. I had a look at the tasting menus – one for 155 pounds per person, one for 250 pounds and one for 595 pounds per person. We decided to stick with wine by the glass and chose a glass of Santorini Pure (white wine) to start for about 25 pounds a glass (and that was one of the cheapest). Lovely wine and if I happen to find it somewhere I would definitely like to buy a bottle or two.
Now onto the 15 course degustation. I did miss photographing a couple of them, mostly because the server bought it out and told us we were to eat it straight away. And also because I didn’t want to be a massive wanker and ask to take a pic first – though I’m sure many people do. But firstly a word of warning, if do you plan on going to The Fat Duck yourself stop reading now so you don’t ruin the surprise for yourself. Part of the fun is not knowing what dish is about to make it’s merry little way to your table.
- Aerated Beetroot Macaron. – Just one tiny mouthful but so much flavour. This was one ‘dish’ we both thoroughly enjoyed. I just wish we could have eaten a few more. Perfect way to start the meal.
2. Paloma, Campari Soda, Pina Colada, Vodka Lime Sour – The next dish, or should I say beverage I wasn’t able to get a photo of, again because I didn’t want to interrupt the server to ask for a pic. No doubt they do get a bit sick of people pulling out their phones and for me manners comes before all else. This nitro poached cocktail had six flavours to choose from. I chose the one with Campari whilst MS chose the tequila based one. The waiter pulled out a spoon and then squeezed a creamy concoction onto it. He then put it in a bowl of liquid nitrogen where it hardened to a meringue type texture, put it on a plate and handed it to each of us to be eaten in one mouthful. Delicious!
3. Smoked Cumin Royale with Celery Sorbet. Yeah I really have no idea what that means but that’s what the menu says. Our server said that this dish was meant to represent a Gin and Tonic, hence the reason it arrived with a small glass of gin. I am myself a gin drinker but this one was pretty smooth and what do you know I even ate the celery sorbet.
4. Hot and Cold Tea – Funnily enough this dish was exactly as the server suggested. Somehow it was hot in some parts (or luke warm) and strangely cold in others however it didn’t really taste anything like tea.
5. Truffled Egg Mousse, Jellied Tomato Consommé, Bacon and Toasted Bread Cream and Cereals – For our ‘breakfast’ we were brought a selection of miniature packaged cereals. The server told us to choose one each and open it to reveal a wooden puzzle with the first to assemble it winning a prize.
I had already been observing the people next to us working on their own puzzles so I guess I had a head start and finished mine in lightning fast time to which the server presented me with a coin to hold onto for later. The server then bought us out a small bowl containing ‘milk’ to which our cereal was to be poured into. What looked like milk in a bowl was actually Truffled Egg Mousse with Jellied Tomato Consomme, Bacon and Toasted Cream while the cereal which we gently mixed in was made of tomato cornflakes, sausage pillows and mushroom crisps. This dish was one of my absolute favourites although strangely MS didn’t really like it. He must have rocks in his head. So many flavours in that tiny little bowl, I just loved it!
6. Sound of the Sea – Next up two large shells arrived (yes real ones) each with a small iPod shuffle inside and earphones.
We were instructed to put the earphones in and not to remove them until after we had finished the dish when the server would return and tell us what we had just eaten. With sounds of the ocean and seagulls flying overhead we were presented with a glass box filled with sand, on top sat malty tapioca ‘sand’, raw kingfish, bonito with abalone, seaweeds and tidal succulents plus sea ‘foam’. The fish was unbelievably fresh. Outstanding!
7.Waldorf salad rocket with walnut, celery and apple ice (left). Urgh more celery?! Salmon/Avocado/Horseradish twister (right). I wasn’t particularly fussed by this dish but kudos for the super cool presentation. I did ask the server if we could eat the rocks to which she replied ‘I wouldn’t recommend it’.
8. Mr Whippy Crab and Passionfruit – Basically a crab flavoured soft serve with chocolate at the bottom like a Drumstick. I wasn’t a fan of this one either. I love crab but this was a weird crab flavour.
9. Cornish Crab, Smoked Caviar and Golden Trout Roe, Veloute of White Chocolate and Sea Vegetables – Prior to me taking the photo of this dish the server came out and poured the veloute over what appeared to be a crab on my plate. The crab then disappeared (dissolved) to reveal the smoked caviar and golden trout roe. This dish was so bloody good that even the non-seafood lover next to me loved it. White chocolate in a savoury dish you ask? Why the hell not?! Just divine.
10. Mushroom, Beet and Blackberry, Scented with Fig Leaf, Meadowsweet, Melilot, Oak Moss and Black Truffle – This dish so aptly titled ‘If You Go Down to the Woods Today’ was one of the highlights for me. It tasted nothing like what I thought it was going to taste like, mind you, it does look like a plate of moss and worms so I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Oh and the mealworms weren’t real!
11. Toast Sandwich – What is a toast sandwich you say? Well it’s a chicken and truffle sandwich on fresh bread with a layer of toast in the middle layer. It was a revelation.
12. Mock Turtle Soup – Two servers arrived in unison at our table, one holding a glass box. Using tongs the other server gently removed a gold ‘watch’ and placed it in each of our glass tea pots. The golden watch is actually a stock that has been set into jelly which literally disappears before your eyes leaving flecks of gold in your tea pot. I didn’t get a photo of this one so here’s a photo of our delicious house made bread and house churned butter. Seconds please!
13. Three Course Dinner – As part of our ‘journey’ a three course dinner with digestif awaits…. Starter: Scallop Anna – what’s not to love about slices of scallop and truffle? I cringe to think about how much this dish would cost to order on it’s own.
Appertizer: Sweetbreads. I actually thought that Sweetbreads were kidney when they arrived at our table (it’s pancreas) and not one to turn anything down I popped it straight in my gob. I have to say it was the most horrible thing I have ever put in my mouth. The fatty, bulbous texture of it still makes me feel sick. I get that it’s a delicacy but you can keep it.
Main: Lamb Shoulder with Onion Puree, Garlic and Coffee – Easily the most tender and delicious roast I’ve had in my life.
Dessert: Botrylis Cinerea. I had to Google this one just to find out exactly what the hell it was. According to an article by The Daily Mail Botrylis Cinerea has 80 ingredients, 23 elements and 55 stages. Also it’s claimed to be the hardest dessert ever attempted on Masterchef Australia. The flavour basically comes from rotting grapes with other elements of the dish including compressed red grade dipped in nitrogen, citrus sorbet, aerated saffron, a chocolate sphere filled with pear caramel, a sugar ball filled with citrus infused yogurt and a churro stalk. Wow who would have thought all those things were in this one dish? It was something else that’s for sure!
Digestif : Whiskey Gums – A glass box with whiskey gums from around the world including one from our own whiskey distillery in Hobart, Lark Distillery, which was perhaps my favourite one of all. The people next to us didn’t like theirs so we happily helped them.
14. By this time we had in fact somehow managed to take the lead on the degustation from the people sitting next to us so it was us that ruined the surprise for them when our floating pillow arrived with two small meringue like sweets placed ever so gently on top. The pillow literally floats off the table and MS found it so intriguing that he decided to put his hand underneath to see how it worked (magnets) causing the entire thing to fall on the floor, sweets and all. Judging by the reactions of the servers nearby he wasn’t the first to do it and no doubt won’t be the last. Feeling a little red faced we luckily received two new sweets to replace the now soiled ones. (Note: I only took a video of this and WordPress won’t let me upload it unless I pay for a premium account. If you want to check it out it’s on my instagram: food_vixen)
15. Second last sweet for the afternoon was the Malt, orange blossom, tonka, milk meringue, crystallised white chocolate and pistachio.
Our take home treat arrived in the form of a mechanical ‘sweetshop’. I placed the coin that I had earned in my puzzle challenge in the slot and out popped a whole bunch of sweet treats that Julien put into a little takeaway bag for us.
Other sweets included Oxchoc – layers of nougat and caramel infused in a Wagyu Beef Consomme (different but delicious), Caramel in Edible Wrapper, Queen of Harts Jam Tart and a Mandarin Scented Aerated Chocolate.
So that’s that! I realise this has been an epic review and if you have managed to hang on until the very end then I commend you! So here’s my conclusion… I had read a few reviews about The Fat Duck prior to going and although I didn’t read too much, in case I spoiled the day for myself, I did read that being seated next to diners that were ‘ahead’ of you in their degustation did spoil the experience slightly because you were able to see what was coming next. The Tasmanian couple seated directly next to us were literally one course ahead of us and despite the best of intentions not to look I couldn’t really help myself especially since they were less than a metre from our table. So here’s a little tip: If you do end up going to The Fat Duck try and make your booking at the very start of the lunch or dinner service so it’s your meals that are the ones spoiling it for everyone else.
Look, I have to admit I wasn’t completely blown away by the whole experience. Possibly due to social media, the internet, I don’t know, but I guess I already had a fair idea of what to expect and how it was all going to pan out. As I have said previously I’m not too big on fancy pants restaurants and would must prefer to sit on a street corner in South East Asia with a 20c mystery meat skewer in my hand and soak up the atmosphere. Despite the fact that I wasn’t overwhelmed lunch at The Fat Duck was a truly memorable experience and something I would certainly recommend to anyone should they have the opportunity. Another thing that I think is pretty important to mention is that the staff weren’t at all pretentious like they can be at some ‘fancy’ restaurants but they were down to earth and friendly (although I did have a few smile and nod moments attempting to understand our waiters thick French accent). Would I go again? No probably not but the service, food, atmosphere and overall experience were truly fantastic and something we will both remember for years to come!
PS: I know some of you are curious as to what the bill ended up being after all that and if you made it this far then I’m happy to divulge. It came in at just under AU$1300.
Foodvixen Does Europe (Rome) – Day 4
We didn’t have anything in particular planned for our fourth day in Rome which just so happened to be a Sunday. Apparently quite a few restaurants and cafes were closed on Sunday’s. At least all the ones I wanted to go to were anyway. But after reading a few reviews and one in particular by Katie Parla (a New Jersey born, Rome based blogger) I had my sights firmly set on De Cesare Al Casaletto, just outside of the main part of Rome. According to her blog Cesare is the place that she takes journalists that want to write about pasta and also where she takes Roman friends. Sounds pretty near perfect to me and they were open on a Sunday so I asked reception at our hotel to book a table for four for that very evening.
Earlier in the day we explored more of the city and I took us on a wild detour to find a gelato shop that had been recommended to me (again thanks Johanna). Il Come Latte seemed a little off the beaten track as it was out of the main tourist areas and we found ourselves to be the only ones around which made me wonder if we had taken a wrong turn. Turns out we did find it and my navigating was on point as usual. Il Come Latte Gelateria was the cutest little gelato shop I think I have ever seen. Very Pleasantville if you have ever seen that movie with Reece Witherspoon. The menu was in Italian so we really didn’t know what all the flavours were but I was able to make out a couple of words including Pistachio and Ricotta so that’s what I ordered. The inside of the handmade waffle cone was also drizzled with white chocolate (you could get milk chocolate if you prefer) with a chocolate dipped wafter chip on top. Perfecto! The server was lovely, even gave MS a warm cloth to wipe chocolate sauce off his shorts.
After our gelato we found ourselves back at the Colosseum eatery that we had eaten at on our first full day in Rome – Angelino Ai Fori – for a late lunch. I had the Caprese Salad with some Bruschetta and MS had the Grilled Provola Cheese with Smoked Ham that we’d previously had.
We both thought the Grilled Cheese was pretty epic but my Caprese Salad was only ok. For such a big and busy restaurant the waiter remembered us and was super friendly in his own brash Italian way.
Back to our hotel for a costume change and then off on the no.8 tram to head to De Cesare Al Casetto. Upon arrival I had a look at the wine menu which seemed ridiculously expensive me. Even my Google Translate app didn’t offer up any help so I asked the waitress if the prices were for a glass of wine. She assured me that all the prices were for bottles of wine. Phew. 15 Euro for a bottle of white Italian wine? Winning!
One of the dishes Cesare is known for is the Fried Gnocchi with Pecorino and Black Pepper Sauce so that’s exactly what we ordered for our starter. When it came out it was far bigger than I expected and it turns out the four of us probably could have just shared the one dish. I could see why it’s a popular dish. Mmmm it was delicioso!
For my main (or as they call it First Course) I had the Tonnarelli All’Amatricana (9 or 10 Euros). Two of my dining buddies ordered the same and the other ordered the Carbonara. There was a slight mix up with the type of pasta that we received but that can only be attributed to the small language barrier.
Oh My Goodness… The Cured Pork Cheek was just to die for! This pasta was something special and to date the best pasta I have eaten on my journey so far, in fact the four of us all agree that our pasta dishes are the best we have eaten.
This was also our last night in Rome so dinner at Cesare was a fitting end to what was a fantastic four days in Rome. I honestly didn’t think I would like Rome, visiting mostly because it has quite a few ‘must see’ places that one needs to visit in their lifetime (i.e. Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Sistine Chapel) however I really enjoyed my time there, despite much of the city smelling like p*ss, and would love to go back again one day.
Foodvixen Does Europe (Rome) – Day 3
Today we woke up early because we had an earlyish tour of the Vatican City, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.
When we arrived at the gates to the Vatican Museum to meet our tour group I was so glad that I had booked the Skip the Line tickets because the line just to get in was absolutely enormous. Not just that but inside was mayhem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many crammed into such small spaces before. Anyhow I am glad that we made the time to do the tour – it was three hours but our guide was incredibly knowledgeable even if she did talk for the entire three hours without taking a breath. Sadly I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the Sistine Chapel. The place is under strict copyright from a Japanese Film Company that apparently paid to have the place cleaned some 20 years ago. That didn’t stop plenty of idiots sneakily taking photos and having the guards yell at them. It annoys me that people are too wrapped up in their phones that they can’t stop to appreciate something anymore.
After the tour we had time to go up to the dome of the Vatican and see the view but we decided three hours of statues and marble was enough and it was clearly time for lunch. We made our way back to Trastevere near our hotel and to a bakery that I had been dying to get to that was literally about 30 metres from the restaurant we had dined at the night before.
Upon arriving we were greeted with slabs of the most beautiful fresh pizzas I have ever laid my eyes on. The brash lady behind the counter pointed to the most popular which was the Burrata and Pesto Pizza. Without a doubt we were getting that one plus a few slices of the Burrata with Tomato and of course something with meat on it for the meat eater that I live with.
It was beautiful. In fact I have to say it was the best pizza I have even eaten. Beautiful thick, crunchy bread, unbelievable fresh toppings and generous serves for the price. After finishing the first lot we decided we could definitely fit in another couple of slices of the Burrata and Pesto. I mean we had been walking all morning so technically we deserved it right?
After a short siesta we met some friends that were also in Rome for some afternoon drinks on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. 15 Euros for an Aperol Spritz (that’s AUD$22) almost made me choke on my complimentary chips but it was such a nice spot to sit we figured we would have one. To put it in perspective in the SE of Italy where I am now they are only 5 Euro.
For dinner we took our friends to the pizzeria that we visited on the first night, Dar Poeta. Since it was still technically early in terms of Roman time for eating (7pm) we walked straight in and got a table for four. I probably didn’t need the two pieces of Gorgonzola and Honey Bruschetta before eating a whole pizza but hey I’m not going to feel bad about it anymore.
Dinner for me was the Super Bufala with tomato sauce, artichokes, buffalo mozzarella, olives and pecorino cheese. The olives were a bit of a let down but the rest of the pizza was tip top. We overstayed our welcome a little bit catching up with our friends that we hadn’t seen in 6 months until I finally understood what the waitress was glaring at me about and we cleared out. Turns out there was a tonne of people outside waiting for a table.
We wandered down to a touristy area with marquees set up alongside the Tiber River and realised it was way too touristy for us. Heineken signs and stuffed toys was the name of the game in this area so we didn’t stay very long. As we were leaving we saw what MS swore was a cat swimming in the Tiber. Upon further Googling it turns out it was a Nutria (a type of rodent but a bloody huge one)… Stay tuned for my next post!
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – Ess A Bagel, New York
One cannot go to New York without eating a bagel – or several. In fact eating a bagel in New York (and everywhere else in the USA) became a daily ritual for us. One of the most famous places to get a bagel in New York is at Ess A Bagel which luckily enough wasn’t too far from our humble abode at the Waldorf Astoria. I’m not too sure how I heard about it but it was on my ‘must do’ list of places to eat at and we were not disappointed despite waiting in line for well over thirty minutes. The line up for the bagels was snaked through the store and out the front door (I had a video but the damn thing won’t upload).
The bagel teams assembling the bagels at the front of the store were like a well oiled machine and there were so many different ingredients to get on your bagel including 18 different flavours of cream cheese with everything from raisin walnut cream cheese to jalapeno cream cheese to chocolate chip cream cheese. The choices of what you could have on your bagel were literally endless, so much so that I found it a little overwhelming. I tend to stick with tradition and can’t go past the Lox (Smoked Salmon as we call it) with Cream Cheese and Capers.Never had I heard of lox before and it took some secret Googling in the line to make sure that it was in fact Smoked Salmon. MS went for the cream cheese with turkey bacon option with extra cheese, another tried and true tradition for him because he’s a fatty. The bagels were so fresh out of the oven they were still steaming when our expert bagel maker Gavin and his buddy Mad Rican cut them open and yet some dumbasses in the customer line still wanted theirs toasted. WTF?! Because American’s love variety with their 18 flavours of cream cheese there are also 14 different types of bagel to choose from at Ess A Bagel. You can get plain, sesame, poppy, salt, onion, garlic, oat bran, cinnamon raisin, 9-grain, pumpernickel, pumpernickel raisin, everything, whole wheat everything and bialy’s (a pastry/bagel type thing). By the time Gavin was done there was that much cream cheese and lox on my bagel that it weighed half a pound! That’s a whole lot of bagel!!!! It was without a doubt the best bagel we had on our trip, and we ate a sh*tload of bagels, much to the dismay of my size 9 jeans that I’m still having trouble fitting into 2 months later. It was warm, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with the perfect blend of lox and cream cheese and you seriously can’t beat a poppy seed bagel. Sadly for us though we went to go back another day and the line was even longer and we had a Broadway show to catch so we couldn’t hang around and I never got to go back for another *insert sad face*. One thing’s for sure though Ess A Bagel will be high on our priority list when we do return to NYC and it should definitely be on yours!
Eating Ourselves Stupid in The USA – Smorgasburg, Brooklyn
New York was such an epic part of our trip that it would take me a million years to detail what we got up to over there and since this is essentially a blog about food I figured I would just include the most important part of our trip – the food. I have taken it upon myself to just write solely about the most memorable food spots that we visited starting with Smorgasburg in Brooklyn…
Smorgasburg: I had been following the mouth watering Instagram page of this outdoor food market for quite some time now. Suffice to say that Cairns is severely lacking in the outdoor food market department so anytime I see or hear about a food truck or food market I make a beeline straight for it. At the time of writing Smorgasburg is held outdoors every Saturday in Williamsburg and every Sunday at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5. I had planned for us to do the Brooklyn Bridge walk on our one and only Sunday in New York and then onward to Smorgasburg at Pier 5 on the waterfront to fill our bellies.
The walk across the bridge only took us about 20 minutes and it gives you fantastic views of the city. Only problem is that it’s quite a popular pastime for tourists and New Yorkers alike so you can expect to spend the walk with literally hundreds of people which can get a little annoying because everyone is constantly stopping to get photos. Be careful of the bike riders going past because they aren’t going slow and some of them definitely aren’t friendly. Never mind that Brooklyn Bridge was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed, all MS cared about was that Jay Z had taken a photo on it and we spent a significant portion of our trip across attempting to recreate said photo.
On the otherside in Brooklyn we found ourselves walking amongst beautiful old buildings and warehouses on our way to Smorgasburg. Brooklyn is clearly the more family friendly and affordable part of New York judging by the amount of young couples and families we saw going about their business and if you’re a Sex and The City fan then you would know that Miranda was horrified when she realised she had to move to Brooklyn to raise her family. Seemed like a pretty nice place to me!
Back to the food – Smorgasburg kicks off every Sunday at 11am and we arrived there at about 11.45am. By that time a reasonable sized crowd had gathered so we lined up at the first stall that was selling Bao’s. A bao is kind of like a Chinese style pork bun if you haven’t had one before – you know those heavenly sweet buns filled with delicious pork and MSG? We ordered two share for US$9 – a Red Coconut Curry Chicken Bao with Peanuts, Cilantro, Fried Garlic and Shallots and a Braised Pork Belly Bao with Cucumber, Scallions, Hoisin Sauce and Jalapeno’s. Neither of them particularly floated my boat and they didn’t seem to be very fresh. The accolade for Best Bao still goes to the wondrous hidden gem Wonderbao in Melbourne IMO (if you’re in Melbourne it’s an absolute must!)Next up MS was chomping at the bit to get his chompers on his own bit of meat from popular stall Carnal. He had seen other big manly men wandering the markets with big bits of meat on the bone and needed one of his own so we joined the line for a Beef Short Rib with Bone Marrow, Ramps and Black Pepper for US$13. Carnal was easily one of the most popular stalls out of the more than 100 at Smorgasburg that day so the wait was a little longer than anywhere else but by the end we were met with a freshly grilled and extremely juicy beef rib that MS sprinkled with a mixture of fried garlic and chicken skin. Yep you heard it here. That salty/fatty goodness. Onward we wandered to the next stall – another one that I already had pegged from Instagram the Ramen Co. Stall for a Ramen Burger while MS stood off to the side in a state of bliss as he navigated his enormous piece of juicy meat on the bone. While waiting in line at the ramen burger place I chatted to a friendly Chinese guy who was originally from San Francisco but had moved to New York to start a job in IT. I told him that we were going to SF so he gave me a few tips on where to go to get good food over there – namely egg tarts. The Ramen Burger was essentially a bit of meat between two ‘burger’ patties that were made out of fried ramen noodles and Kewpie mayonnaise. It does sound kind of amazing but it was just so fatty that all I could taste was oil. It failed miserably against my very high expectations. Whilst waiting for my ramen burger MS had gnawed the last remaining piece of meat of his rib and already cased the next stall he wanted to try – the Scotch Eggs stall so aptly named The Imperial Egg. Much to the delight of my London friend SS who is a connoisseur of Scotch Eggs (or so she says) this was to be my first ever Scotch Egg. Since it was MS’ baby he chose the Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg which was so expertly cooked that when they cut it open the golden yolk was still oozing and just perfect! They must have a technique after cooking hundreds if not thousands of scotch eggs and I can safely say they have it down pat. I will go as far to declare the Scotch Egg the best thing we ate at Smorgasburg that day. After that we were pretty much stuffed and knowing full well that I still had plans for us to go to a famous Brooklyn pizza joint for ‘afternoon tea’ we called it there – ok after we ate some Red Velvet Cupcakes.
So many food stalls, so little time but there were so many more that I wanted to try like the lobster rolls, the ice cream sandwich and all the other flavours of Scotch Eggs. One stall that I did find particularly interesting was the Von Kava stall with a three course tasting menu that they call ‘Flash Fine Dining’ for only $15. Pretty cool idea if you ask me! Would I recommend the Smorgasburg food market? Hell yeah! Just make sure you get there early because by the time we were leaving at about 1pm the place was absolutely packed with people and lines were enormous with some places selling out of food. Places that we missed out on in Brooklyn because we just didn’t have enough time (or room in our stomachs were):
Brennan and Carr – another Man Vs Food gem famous for it’s French dipped Roast Beef Sandwiches (pretty much a sandwich dipped in gravy). Sounds kinda foul but apparently it’s amazing.
Roberta’s – a pizza joint that has been named as one of America’s top 15 pizzeria’s.
Brisket Town – A bbq joint that well, the name speaks for itself really.
Till next time x
Eating Ourselves Stupid in the USA – South Carolina to Virginia
So it turns out that my USA holiday posts aren’t going to write themselves and I know that there are a few people keen to hear them so I better pull my finger out. We spent a total of 3.5 weeks in the USA – an absolutely amazing country to visit and one that I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting twice previously, although this was MS’ first time. We arrived mid afternoon in LA after about 20 hours of flying and transiting through Sydney and what seemed like an eternity of MS chucking the sh*ts on the flight over because of the lack of leg room in economy. We’re all in the same boat buddy – well kind of. The fact that he is 6 ft 2 and I am all but 5 ft surely makes a difference to the level of comfort onboard a 747.
We overnighted in LA close to the airport in a reasonably priced hotel. It wasn’t anything flash but the beds were comfy and the copious amounts of hair loss ads on the TV sure made up for it. We ventured down the road to get some food for an early dinner only after confirming with the clerk that it was safe to do so. It is LA after all and almost everyone is packing, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. We ended up at the clerks recommendation of Waba Grill which was only a 10 minute walk down the road and wasn’t particularly amazing. Imagine a fast food place that serves brown rice and teriyaki marinated meats with avocado and there you have Waba Grill. It was a little better than the other option next door – Little Caesars, whose newest product was bacon wrapped pizza. Actually on second thought maybe we should have gone to Little Caesars. It was the first day of the holiday however and I was still holding onto the completely ridiculous notion that I wasn’t going to put on any weight in the USA despite the long lists of burger and BBQ joints I had in mind.
Early next morning we flew from LA to Charlotte in North Carolina for a short stopover that ended up being delayed (thank goodness for the rocking chairs at Charlotte airport) and then finally to Columbia in South Carolina where my uncle met us. My mum’s brother and his family have lived in the USA for about 15 years now and this was MS first time meeting them. Just for a bit of inside info my uncle and his family are moonies and their particular way of life, as you can imagine, is a little different to many including both MS and I. It was MS first time being in such close proximity to people that are so deeply religious and he found it both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He challenged my uncle on his beliefs (in a polite way) with conversations about the big bang theory, Adam and Eve and even Obama Care over the few days we spent with him – at Walmart, at Sam’s Club, in the car, at Verizon and back at Walmart again. Despite how it sounds it was a very friendly interaction but it’s obviously a conversation that my uncle has had plenty of times. In fact he freely admits that his responses have been well crafted over the years whereas MS was almost completely out of his depth. We had a great time with them but without being rude or disrespectful since my uncle will most likely read this I live my life very differently to those of the Unification Church.
Three days after we arrived we hired a car, said goodbye to my South Carolina family and after MS got his bearings for driving on the complete other side of the road in 6 lanes of traffic at 90 miles an hour we were on our way north to Durham in North Carolina (about a 3 hour drive). Along the way we passed a road sign advertising a Gun Expo in Charlotte and since we weren’t constrained by time we figured we would stop off to check it out. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside and my Go Pro had to be put away the minute I stepped in the door. Pointing a high powered assault rifle with a scope and a laser sight at someone elses head so they can show me the accuracy of their favourite weapon isn’t something I thought I would ever see myself doing but it was pretty interesting to see the conservatives in their element.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Durham and headed straight to the Backyard BBQ Pit which was due to close earlier than we expected. It meant an early dinner of 5pm but it would have to do. I had heard about Backyard BBQ Pit on my beloved show Man Vs Food and kept it on a list ever since as one place I wanted to go to. We arrived to an unassuming brick restaurant on the side of the road with a sweet smell of barbecued meats in the air.
There was quite a line inside because the place was very popular and despite the questionable cleanliness of the eatery (cue waitress swatting blow flies with a broom) we took our place in the line. I’ve eaten at plenty of places where the hygiene was questionable and still lived to tell the tale. One that comes to mind was a road side hut that my cousin and I stopped at whilst touring Sri Lanka with Intrepid. We had a fantastic curry lunch served in large clay pots in an open air dining room. Before getting back on the bus I went to use the bathrooms and caught sight of the blow fly laden kitchen, a sight I would have preferred not to see.
Back at the Backyard BBQ Pit MS ordered the rib dinner with a trio of meats including brisket, ribs and pulled pork with sides for US$10.49 while I chose the Brisket plate with choice of sides for US$6.49. We both chose the mac n cheese as well as the hushpuppies – think deep fried mashed potato – and took a seat at a booth on the side.
The styrofoam take away boxes that seem to be a popular serving option in the US don’t make for a particularly aesthetic meal but they do the trick. One thing that was very obvious to me in the USA is that they live in very much a throw-away society. I thought we were bad in Australia but sh*t they are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of waste produced and no one seems to care (unless they are from San Francisco).
The best part of my meal was easily the mac n cheese. That cheesy, fat ladened pasta was so ridiculously rich I shudder to think what was in it but I didn’t come to the USA so question the calorie content of my food. My brisket was lovely in a vinegary sort of way. I recall my South Carolina cousin telling me about the difference in BBQ in the southern states – some swear by the vinegary type brisket and pulled pork whilst others think covering it in BBQ sauce is the best way. I’m definitely the later. Bring me the BBQ sauce! In fact, you can just leave it on my table. I tasted MS’ ribs and got a bit of food envy – he had definitely made a better meat choice than I had.
Later we explored our first Whole Foods supermarket of many which was conveniently located across the road from our hotel. If only for the entire fridge of different Kombucha (my new found love in life) I give Whole Foods 5 out of 5.
Next morning after a gym session in the ‘no judgement zone’ that is Planet Fitness we were on our way to Richmond in Virginia but not before stopping at the ridiculously popular bagel house Bruegger’s Bagels.
As you can imagine, bagels are hugely popular in the USA and the line for bagels at this place was well out the door. Bagels for breakfast soon became our ritual much to the dismay of my ass.
For lunch we made it to our first Chipotle for the trip as recommended by my mum and dad – think Zambrero but tastier and not such a damn rip off. In my opinion it’s one of the best fast food options in the USA and there are thousands of them around the country. I can recommend the Barbacoa with lots of Tabasco Sauce.
Later that night was our second BBQ stop Buz and Ned’s Real BBQ, another one I had seen on Man Vs Food. This was the other type of BBQ that my cousin was telling me about, the one with the BBQ sauce smothered all over the meat (aka my kind of dinner). We both ordered the BBQ Pork Sandwiches (MS had two because he’s a growing boy apparently) with more mac n cheese, hushpuppies and also fried okra (another popular southern dish). The mac n cheese wasn’t nearly as good as the one we had the previous night but I enjoyed the brisket burgers way more. And the fried okra? Well that kind of just tasted like oil. I love BBQ and it was one of the things I most looked forward to in the USA but I find it very rich and filling and can’t eat a whole lot of it.
The next day we were back on the road again and after our regular bagel breakfast we stopped at a random servo somewhere on the outskirts of Virginia. Inside I glanced at a newspaper on the counter with about 15 mugshots of people on the front of it. I asked the attendant if those were people that had gone missing and she said that it was people that had gone to jail that week. Only an emoji could convey my reaction to her reply.
To be continued… xo
Eating Ourselves Stupid in Tasmania – East Coast
Continuing on from my last post where I rambled about wine and cheese platters in the Tamar Valley the next day we were leaving Launceston bound for Swansea. Being a Saturday I was well aware that one of the biggest and best markets in the country, the Salamanca Markets, was on in Hobart but alas we were a couple of hundred km’s away. I tried to plan our initial itinerary around being in Hobart on that very day but logistics just didn’t allow for it so instead we found ourselves at the Harvest Markets in Launceston.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting much but I was actually pleasantly surprised by the size of the markets and the variety. I mean it was no Salamanca Markets that’s for sure – Salamanca Markets has over 300 stall holders while the Harvest Market in Launceston probably had about 30 but you know what they say ‘size doesn’t matter’. The Harvest Market is held in a carpark in the heart of Launceston every Saturday from 8.30am – 12.30pm. Awarded the Most Outstanding Farmers Market by ABC Delicious Magazine in 2013 it brings the farm gate to you and after my visit I can highly recommend it.
When we arrived it seemed like the majority of Launceston was there for a look and to sample some of the local delights. There’s artisan bread, wine, cider, cheese, preserved, fresh fruit and vege, seafood, meat, coffee and also a handful of food trucks serving everything from gozlemes to waffles to Reuben sandwiches. Typically MS and I just couldn’t go past the stall selling Reuben sandwiches so aptly called ‘Meat Bread Cheese’.
It seems many other people attending had the same idea because they had quite a following of people also keen to have a Reuben. MS and I shared their apparently famous Reuben sandwich with Pastrami, Swiss Cheese, Russian Dressing and Sauerkraut on Fresh Rye for those of you that don’t know what a Reuben is (you should be ashamed of yourself). It was a fantastic Reuben and probably the best I’ve had but that will most likely change when I go to Katz Deli in New York for THE Reuben in a couple of months time.
When we first walked into the markets I spied a stall selling fresh blackberries that was doing an absolute roaring trade. A few stalls over I also spied another stall selling blackberries but with no one buying them. Ever the bleeding heart – I still have pangs of guilt about not buying a piece of fruit cake from an old man trying to sell fruit cake at the weekend markets in Broome over three years ago – I went over and bought a punnet of blackberries from this couple for about $5. Turns out no one was buying their berries because they weren’t very friendly and their blackberries were that sour that we couldn’t even eat them. Anyways we bought a gozleme for the road and jumped in the car headed for Swansea.
The road to Swansea was winding and littered with dead wildlife – I have seriously never seen so much roadkill as I have in Tasmania, it’s a little sad. MS thought it would be a fantastic road to travel on his GSXR and even fantasised about moving to Tasmania just so he could explore new roads at high speeds (and no I do not condone speeding). We were overtaken by a convoy of classic cars and premium sports car prompting an argument about which car we would rather own. In the end the silver Aston Martin won out for me whilst MS refused to go past the 1972 Ford Falcon XY GT. Come on the two don’t even compare!
We were staying at a cosy little BnB in Swansea that night but we weren’t due to check in till later that afternoon so in the meantime we stopped off at the Bark Mill Tavern and Bakery for a bite to eat because god forbid we had been a good hour and a half without food. I ordered a Curried Scallop pie while MS got a sausage roll and a Steak and Bacon pie. I’ve only ever eaten three scallop pies in my lifetime – in Hobart back in 2009, Bairnsdale in 2002 and this one in Swansea. It wasn’t amazing with no more than 5 or 6 scallops inside but given that it was in fact a scallop pie it automatically gets a few extra points.
We jumped back in the car and headed off towards Coles Bay and the Freycinet National Park because I had a mission to eat oysters at the Freycinet Marine Farm. Due to my awesome navigating skills and MS’ lack of sign reading ability (someone navigating for you does not take away from your responsibility to pay attention to any and all signs on your journey) we ended up driving straight past the oyster farm and into Coles Bay. It wasn’t a major drama since we had planned on heading there to get some photos of The Hazards before heading back to Swansea. We parked down at the boat ramp and the place was packed with boaties either launching or recovering their boats after a morning of fishing. By the looks of the boats and the 4WD’s towing them there was certainly a bit of money in the area.
Beyond the boat ramp though were the spectacular Hazards – rugged mountains that separate Wineglass Bay from Coles Bay. It was a stunning view. The whole area is just so pristine and beautiful I would love to spend a bit more time there and do the hike up to the Wineglass Bay lookout one day – just not this day. One things for sure I will be coming back to spend a night or two at Saffire Freycinet – when I win the lotto.
There was a nice French man fishing off the pontoon and I asked him if I could get a photo of him fishing. He happily obliged as long as I was happy to send the photos to his email address because he said he didn’t have any photos of himself fishing. I put his email address into my phone and sent the photos to him later that evening only to have them bounce back. I tried a few different alternatives to the email he had given me but with no luck. If you are reading this nice French man I am sorry you didn’t receive the photos but I really did try to send them. I’m a woman of my word!
About 20 minutes later we found ourselves at the Freycinet Marine Farm which was pretty much exactly what the reviews on Trip Advisor had said – a shack in the middle of nowhere. Still we weren’t there for the view we were there for the oysters (well I was anyway). Despite being in the middle of nowhere they were doing a roaring trade with a few actual meals on the
specials board as well as some variations of oysters, mussels and crayfish.
I ordered a dozen of the natural jumbo sized oysters and a half dozen of the Kilpatrick simply because I’m a glutton plus a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to wash it all down. Despite my desperate pleas for MS to order something he stuck to his guns and instead watched me eat my mollusc delights. The jumbo oysters ($20 for a dozen) were excellent – big and meaty however the Kilpatrick were pretty damn ordinary but personally I’m the kind of person that doesn’t really believe in dressing up oysters, they taste great just the way they are. Yeah that kind of defeats the purpose of me ordering them I guess.
Later that afternoon we found ourselves checking into our bnb in Swansea followed by a little afternoon nap. The Freycinet Waters bnb building was a lovely former post office with plenty of character and friendly owners to boot. We spent the afternoon snoozing with the free wifi and the tennis on in the background before heading across the road for some ciders overlooking the Great Oyster Bay on the balcony of local restaurant Salt Shaker.
That evening at the Salt Shaker restaurant we dined on Seafood Chowder, Calamari and Chicken Parmigiana (not me). The Calamari was pretty ordinary especially for the price and so was the Chicken Parmi. I had been longing for Seafood Chowder since arriving in Tasmania and this one was excellent despite the hair that I found in it… We totted off back to our room at the bnb finishing the night with a tipple of port supplied by our hosts and dreams of Scallop Pies and fresh shucked oysters (me) and MS most likely his other girlfriend (his motorbike).
Stay tuned for my final post as we head back to Hobart xox
Eating Ourselves Stupid in Tasmania – Hobart (Part 1)
No longer a ’20 something chick who likes to eat out in and around Cairns’ I recently celebrated my 30th birthday and MS who knows the way to my heart (food and travel) took me to Tasmania a couple of weeks ago to celebrate. Having travelled to Tassie a few times to attend the Maritime College in Launceston and Beauty Point for various work courses I hadn’t actually had the opportunity to spend any ‘leisurely’ time down there until now.
With jaw dropping scenery, a thriving food culture built on a diverse range of produce, a plethora of vineyards selling some of the finest drops of pinot noir you’re likely to ever taste, excellent roads and sh*tloads of native roadkill it’s easy to see why Tasmania has been named in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Regions to travel to in 2015. For such a small state there is much to see and do in Tasmania and in an ideal world two weeks would be a perfect amount of time to spend there however due to work schedules and upcoming surgical procedures (no I am not getting a boob job) five days in Tassie was all we could muster.
We flew in and out of Hobart via Melbourne on Jetstar, somehow managed to bypass the Jetstar baggage Nazi’s for the entire trip down and back to Cairns. I must have just been lucky because my carry on was 8.5kg before I even left home – slightly above the 7kg allowance. We picked up our rental and headed into the city to our room at the Travelodge on Macquarie Street. Clean simple rooms around the $120 a night mark within good walking distance to pretty much everything and most importantly Salamanca Place is only about a 10 minute walk.
That night I had booked us in for dinner at lovacore restaurant Ethos, a place I picked after reading about in a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller. For those of you wondering what a ‘lovacore’ restaurant is according to Wikipedia it’s a ‘person that’s interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market’ with the term being ‘spawned as a result of interest in sustainability’. From the sounds of it we were certainly in the right place because there’s no shortage of this type of thing in Tasmania.
The restaurant itself is housed in a space over 190 years old and illustrates an important part of Hobart’s history. We were impressed from the moment we entered the arched laneway to Ethos, walking through the thriving veggie garden and onwards into the main part of the restaurant.
The menu at Ethos is determined by the seasonal produce and offerings that arrive that day therefore each day it is different. MS and I chose the 6 courses for AU$85 without wine ($160 with a wine pairing) and instead chose our own drinks from the menu. I chose a Pinot Noir from the Huon Valley while MS ever the non wine drinker chose the locally made Pagan Apple Cider.
Over the 6 courses we dined on dehydrated kingfish, rats tail radish, Bruny Island goat and bonito just to name a few things but my personal favourite was without a doubt the Egg, Asparagus, Kombu (kelp), Magentaspreen (some weird leafy vegetable) and Chickweed (another plant) dish. I know it sounds complicated but it really wasn’t. The flavour combination of the of the egg yolk, tempura asparagus and seaweed was exquisite.
The entire meal was excellent with exceptionally knowledgeable, albeit seemingly nervous staff to boot but more importantly I love eating somewhere with such an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. It really excites me and by excited I mean the ‘gosh what’s going to happen next’ kind rather than the piss your pants kind. Before I move on I must give a mention to the house made sourdough with butter that is churned in house for a week before serving. Yes typical me, I go to an expensive restaurant and the most memorable thing for me is the bread.
The next day we headed up the road to highly recommended café Ginger Brown. I must admit we were both a little disappointed when we arrived. To put it bluntly it was an unassuming café on a random backstreet of Hobart.
I was kind of hoping to have some delightful harbour views while sipping my morning flat white but the predominantly brown vintage décor would have to do. I chose the House baked crumpets with whipped vanilla bean butter, caramelised nectarines and honey whilst MS chose the Red wine braised beef cheek omelette with sweet chilli, avocado, fried shallots and bean shoots (with a side of bacon of course).
Despite the immense ‘heaviness’ of his breakfast MS enjoyed it but couldn’t finish it, I however nearly licked my plate clean. My breakfast of House baked crumpets was in fact one of the best breakfasts I have ever had the pleasure of eating.
Next up we headed to Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) which houses the largest privately owned art collection in Australia and without going into it too much because no doubt it’s either somewhere you have already been or heard of, neither of MS or I particularly enjoyed it. Call me uneducated, call me ignorant, call me what you like but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. According to the lady at the front counter apparently peoples views on MONA are few and far between – some love it, some hate and some just leave confused. Having said that I highly recommend that anyone visiting Hobart takes a trip to MONA to see it for themselves.
Beyond the art the museum itself is very impressive having cost over $70 million to build, including a winery, a brewery and a restaurant as well as a sweet a** outdoor area where you can sit on bean bags whilst drinking wine and eating cheese. Pretty sure that right there is my lifelong dream.
At the MONA’s above ground Wine Bar (yes there is a below ground one also) MS ordered a Lemon Tart that he didn’t realise was a Lemon Tart (he sure is special sometimes) while I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some cheese and biccies to ‘nibble on’.
After our MONA visit we headed up to the top of Mt Wellington for stunning 360 degree views and if it wasn’t for little bit of cloud cover to the north I am pretty sure we could have almost seen Melbourne the views are that vast. Before we made the two hour drive to Launceston where we were booked in for the next night we drove in completely the other direction (stupidly at my request) to Peppermint Bay for a bite to eat.
The Peppermint Bay restaurant in Woodbridge was also suggested by one of my readers (thanks Bernard) as somewhere to visit and after having a look at it online I decided it was a must-do. The food there was great with an exciting lunch menu and a few specials on the board but the best part was probably the location.
The former resting place for Tassie favourite ‘The Stackings’ Peppermint Bay looks out over the pristine Tasmanian waterway towards Bruny Island where you can watch the barges making their way in and out of Hobart whilst enjoying a glass of wine and lifes simple pleasures.
Peppermint Bay would also be a fantastic place to go for dinner and drinks during winter. With the fire crackling in the background and the cold chill of the outside air pressing up against the floor to ceiling glass windows I think it would be absolute magic. Yes it’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it.
Stay tuned for my next post about Launceston and the Tamar Valley Wine Region xox
To plan your own trip to Tasmania check out the Discover Tasmania website here