Pimp My Plate #33 – The Boatshed, Tea Gardens, NSW

img_9078s

PMP is usually focused on brunch or lunches under $19 but we’re about flavour and value so we remain flexible.

Ducks, pelicans, local vibe = fabulous.

Snap! Sometimes a lazy lunch perched on a river is a much better bet than a citified Melbourne Cup lunch.

If you need convincing, consider a restaurant table overlooking a river, watching a duck family paddle past, while you’re served a complimentary glass of sparkling wine.  

Almost a moving meditation!

On the pier opposite, a large pelican basks lazily in the sun eyeing diners. Languid, but not crazy lazy, he is ready and alert to consume any food morsels that slip through the wooden decking into the water below.

Sometimes you want to slow the pace a little, because sometimes a lazy lunch can feel like a holiday in itself.

And sometimes you don’t even know you want to slow down until you do.

That’s the vibe you whole-heartedly and effortlessly embrace at Tea Gardens Boatshed. Why hurry paradise?

For me, Miles Davis’ ‘So What’ came to mind in an easy, ‘I’m where I want to be’ vibe.

Here there are boats, but no marina. Instead the river is fringed with mangroves and sea birds, not infrastructure.

The natural calm and serenity is punctuated by the pop of an occasional champagne cork, the clink of glasses, conversation, and easy laughs. Paradise, right? Are you relaxed yet?

The food at the Boatshed embraces this languid mood, but it’s not lazy, instead it glows with fresh goodness and attentiveness on the plate and the palate.

What brought me to Tea Gardens? I was travelling back from Tastings on the Hastings food festival and chose to stop over in Tea Gardens to break our trip back to Sydney. We had no set plans for Melbourne Cup Day or any expectations of fine dining.

We found both.

I’m a Sydneysider, and to see a poster advertising a Melbourne Cup lunch – the ‘race that stops a nation’ – for $60 a head felt a lot like finding an Eames chair for sale at a thrift store for $5. If only I had, ever.

So that was surprise #1.

Surprise #2 was that the Boatshed could accommodate our booking with only one day’s notice.

On Melbourne Cup Day, it seems that the locals in Tea Gardens are spoilt for choice between their own lounge rooms, their local RSL, and the local hotel. Perhaps locals consider it a bit ‘fancy’ to go to a restaurant, who knows.

The Boatshed isn’t ‘fancy’ it’s just simply fabulous. And it’s situated slap-bang on the river bank in a prime ‘embrace Nature’ position.

Which means we immediately felt any weight from city life instantly evaporate from our shoulders. Sun, wildlife, food. You get the picture.

We visited the Boatshed twice – once for the special occasion degustation Melbourne Cup lunch, and then again to eat on a regular work day.

I’ll start with The Cup lunch.

Canapes on arrival, a glass of sparkling wine, and then three courses of delicious food. We were ready.

The sun sparkled over the river as boats lolled about on the calm blue water, and sea birds stretched their wings in the sunshine.

We joined a small group of diners – a mix of locals, and Sydney expats.

You can’t fake “country hospitality” or its twin, “country congeniality”.

Where else would a restaurant come to a standstill as we demanded one of the diners don his inflatable horse and jockey garb – because we missed it first time around – while his wife held aloft a bucket of champagne because they won best costume of the day. They won for attitude and bravado, rather than celebrity. So much of that missing these days!

On this day, in this place, quality food, friendliness and inclusiveness surpassed any on-trend city hipster-ism.

Between courses, conversations swirled between local concerns like midges, art courses, dog-walking, and other local gossip. Temporarily, we felt like  adopted family. And that was even before one of the locals generously offered to buy everyone in the restaurant a drink. Name the last time that happened to you?

This Melbourne Cup lunch was the best I’ve ever experienced. And at $60 per head I kept kicking myself – is this real? It was. And it was really worth $160 per head.

So you can understand why we went back for lunch – and were similarly impressed.

The Boatshed serves great food – simple, full of flavour with, on special occasions, a flair that is easily comparable with Sydney bistros.

Spend your money here. Feel the love and enjoy the flavours. Feel special. Support the locals. Meet the locals.

RATED: Oh so, pimped!  FOOD: 5/5   Feel special and eat well.
VALUE: 6/5   VENUE ATMOS: A holiday in each bite!   VIBE:  Punching way about their weight and winning.

TEA GARDENS BOATSHED – 110 Marine Drive, Tea Gardens, NSW

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visit me on facebook, twitter, or instagram: @pimpmyplate  – drop by and say hello 

 

Advertisements

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Ice Cream

7d-copy 

Had. To. Try. It.  In time for Thanksgiving!

With only 80gm of sugar in the whole recipe, what’s not to like?

How does it taste? The flavour of this Ice Cream is a sweet, subtle pumpkin flavour, with a very creamy, dense texture.

Don’t try making this with canned butternut pumpkin – I know you wouldn’t – it must be fresh! Did you know that the orange flesh of butternut pumpkin is naturally sweet? So there’s no need to kill the flavour with excessive amounts of sugar.

If you’re worried any recipe for Pumpkin Ice Cream for Thanksgiving is full of ‘pumpkin spice’ because you are so over that flavour, relax! The only ingredients in this recipe are cream, milk, sugar, and pumpkin. If you want to add a touch of spice I suggest grating half a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the pumpkin puree mixture. Trust me, forget the cinnamon and just grate in the nutmeg, to taste.

You’ll need an electric ice-cream maker to make this. Mine is a clunky older style but works fine. Check the ice cream maker specification and quantities for yours against this recipe before starting as my recipe uses more cream than milk.

Let’s get started…

PUMPKIN ICE CREAM

Yields: approx. 3 cups
Serve with pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, pudding, waffles, pancakes, or in ice cream cones.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups cooked butternut pumpkin
1 cup (8 oz.) of thick pouring cream
½ cup (2.5 oz.) of cold full cream milk
Orange Americolor food colouring gel – I used ½ teaspoon, or personal preference

3 egg yolks (use the leftover egg whites to make meringue – they stay fresh for 2-3 days)
1/3 cup of superfine white sugar
1 level Tblspn light brown sugar

7 oz. thick pouring cream

How to make Pumpkin Ice Cream

Step 1

Dice enough butternut pumpkin to fill 1 ½ cups, and steam in a medium saucepan until soft.

Take off the heat, and put aside to cool. When cool, transfer pumpkin into a small bowl and put into the fridge for 15-30 minutes until completely cold.

1-copy

Step 2

Take the pumpkin mixture out of the fridge and spoon it into a food processor. Pour in the cup of cream and half a cup of milk, and puree until there are no lumps in the mixture. Then add the orange food colour to the pumpkin puree, and pulse again until completely mixed through. Set aside.

Step 3

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the egg yolks and sugar until fluffy and thoroughly mixed.

Stir in the pumpkin puree and mix through thoroughly.

Step 4

In another medium sized bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the remaining cream until stiff peaks form.

Fold the cream into the egg and pumpkin mixture, and whisk briefly until well combined.

Switch on your ice cream machine and pour in the mixture. Start churning the ice cream, to the manufacturer’s instructions.

2-copy

6b-copy

Homemade donuts? Yes, please

donuts-blog-copy

NOV 5 is National DONUT DAY in the USA, so with a nod to New Orleans, here is my recipe for homemade donut-beignets – doughnets? This is my first attempt at donuts and as usual, I like to add a little spice.

I warn you, they are delicious! 

DONUT~BEIGNETS
Makes 18-20 (4cm round)

Oil or candy thermometer
Metal tongs or metal slotted spoon

T=tablespoon

1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 large beaten egg
1/4 cup caster sugar
3 T melted unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups Sunflower oil, for frying

Sugar-spice coating: Mix together 3 T caster sugar with a generous pinch of ground Cinnamon and a pinch of Allspice.

Let’s get started…

Melt butter in a small saucepan on low heat and allow to cool. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, egg, and cooled melted butter.

Sprinkle flour into the egg mixture bit by bit. Use a mixer on low speed until all the flour has been combined.

Preheat oil over medium heat in a medium size saucepan or deep non-stick fry-pan (keeping an eye on the oil it as it is heating up).

Once the oil has reached 350 degrees, use a tablespoon or plastic coffee scoop to carefully plop the batter into the oil.

Cook 5-6 donut balls at a time, keeping a close watch on the oil temperature, adjusting down if necessary to keep the temperature consistent and not skyrocketing up in temperature.

Fry the donut balls about 1 minute on each side, or until golden brown. Carefully remove with metal tongs or slotted spoon and turn off the heat. Drain donut-beignets onto a plate lined with paper towels.

When hot enough to handle, roll the donuts in the sugar-spice mixture.

These are perfect with a cup of fresh coffee. Take some to work to share. Enjoy!

dafter

Pimp My Plate #32 – Will & Steve’s pop-up restaurant, Rozelle, NSW

blog-1a
Salmon Tartare with peas, apple & fennel remoulade

Can Will & Steve’s pop-up restaurant PIMP MY PLATE?

 

‘The gourmet pommies pop up at TRAMSHEDS’

Anyone who watched Australia’s TV cooking show My Kitchen Rules last year will remember the charming and affable Will & Steve, or as they call themselves, ‘the gourmet pommies’.

Hailing from Britain, Will Stewart and Steve Flood were the winners of the 2015 series of My Kitchen Rules, and first met when they moved to Australia with the same investment bank.

When circumstances changed in their financial careers, the pair decided to fully embrace their foodie side, the catalyst being when Steve applied for them both to appear on the show. It was a good move.

Since their TV win, Will and Steve have continued their career in food, lifestyle and media. And for the last 12 months the pair has been busy producing their first cookbook, appropriately named Will and Steve, Home Cook, Aspiring Chef.

Tonight’s event is one of four pop-up dinners hosted by them, to meet some of their fans who share their love of good food, and to promote their new cookbook by serving us a 3-course meal from it.

The venue is Sydney’s new dining hub TRAMSHEDS at Harold Park. The atmosphere here is a bit like dining in a restaurant inside a restaurant. The freestanding kitchen space and tables are positioned in the busy Artisan Lane area.

It’s Saturday night and all around us, the whole of TRAMSHEDS is buzzing, while we sip champagne at our tables, in anticipation. Diners from other bars and restaurants walk by, glancing across at our tables twinkling with glassware and tea lights.

Will and Steve are happy to pose for selfies and answer all our questions, before, during, and after plating and serving. Both are energetic personalities – Will loves to engage and share a laugh, and Steve is passionate about food. And both are generous with their time throughout the night.

With a glass of champagne in hand we watch the boys’ hard work that usually happens behind-the-scenes in a kitchen. Their rhythmic precision is enjoyable to watch, and despite them having only one person to help them prep and plate, Will and Steve manage to make the work appear effortless.

Then our entrées arrive, a pretty pink and green plate of Salmon Tartare with peas and pea foam, and apple and fennel remoulade. It’s a light and refreshing start, served with slivers of crunchy black sesame seed lavoche on the side.

The main is a juicy and beautifully crispy piece of Pork Belly served with Colcannon, heirloom carrots, and apple cider juice. The only improvement on this dish would be a sharper knife to glide through that crackling and maintain the architecture of the pork. But sharp knives are a rarity in restaurants these days.

Dessert is a Chocolate, Beetroot and Milk Crunch with dramatic plating with a dark red sauce embellishment that is part strobe effect and part ‘how to get away with murder’.

As we finish each course, we flick to the corresponding recipe page in cookbook. It’s beautifully produced and also features fresh reinventions of classics, including The Perfect Steak with truffle butter and parsnip chips; Lobster Rolls with mango salsa; White Pudding with apple chutney; Sarnies (British slang for sandwiches); and a Maple Pumpkin Tart with sweet dukkha and yoghurt – a must-cook alternative to serving pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Will and Steve are now touring around Australia to promote cookbook and share their passion for fresh flavours that showcase Australian produce. Will and Steve’s website also features their recipes so take a look and be inspired.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4.5/5   Fresh flavours
VALUE: 4/5   VENUE ATMOS: Industrial modern   VIBE:  Friendly and generous

http://www.willandsteve.com.au

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

 

Spaghettini Bolognese a la Awia

 

img_7103

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is known as ragù alla Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from, you guessed it, Bologna, in Italy.

A traditional version of the sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

On my travels around Sydney, I didn’t find anyone serving a version of Bolognese sauce that contained all the above ingredients.

Here is my version – it contains beef, bacon, carrot, onion, garlic, tomato and tomato concentrate. Yes, I skipped the celery and red wine, because I was happy with my version. Better than red wine is in a glass in your hand to toast the meal than in the sauce!

Instead of using freshly grated parmesan cheese, I use feta cheese, but you can grate fresh parmesan cheese over the top if you like. I didn’t use celery in this sauce as – personal preference – I don’t like adding that texture in this recipe.

Buon Appetito! And I hope you enjoy my version… sans the celery

Spagettini Bolognese
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

(T=tablespoon)

2 medium carrots, finely diced
1 brown onion, finely diced
Unsalted butter
Olive oil
8 grape tomatoes cut in half, then into thirds
5T Chicken stock
1 lean rasher of bacon
500g lean beef mince
4T (heaped) of tomato paste
400g can of whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
100g piece of full cream feta cheese
Half a packet of spaghettini (durum wheat)
1-2 cloves garlic, grated

METHOD

Heat 1T of butter and 1T of oil and cook diced carrot and onion over a medium heat, for 15-20mins, stirring continuously.

1-copy

Add the grape tomato chunks and cook for a further 10 mins on a medium heat. Then add canned tomatoes and 3T of chicken stock, and simmer until the carrot is almost tender, then take off heat.

2-copy

In another pan, cook diced bacon in 1T oil until browned. Add to the onion mix.

Cook the beef mince over a medium heat in 1T oil until browned and almost cooked. Add the can of peeled tomatoes, then add 4 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste, and simmer for 20 mins on a medium-high setting. Turn off heat. Season lightly with salt and ground black pepper.

3-copy

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan heat water to a boil and then add the spaghettini and cook until the pasta is cooked al dente, then drain.

Combine the carrot and meat mixtures together in a large saucepan, and reheat, simmering for 15-20 mins. Add 1T of chicken stock if needed to prevent the mixture sticking to the pan. When cooked, crumble handful of feta cheese into the meat mixture and stir through.

5-copy

Divide the spaghettini into bowls. Add the hot Bolognese mixture over the top and sprinkle with more crumbled feta cheese and mix through.

img_7109-copy

Feta cheese is very salty, so taste before adding more salt and pepper.

Serve with a green salad.

Pimp My Plate #31 – BAR ITALIA, Leichhardt, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

This month I’ve been posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish – Spaghetti Bolognese.  See my previous September reviews: Bravo and No Name.

A traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This week I twirl my fork at an Italian restaurant in Leichhardt. This is the third and last restaurant I’ll be reviewing in my search for that old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese.

5-copy

Bar Italia Restaurant – Ristorante #3

BAR ITALIA opened its doors in 1952. With a sunny façade and its Italian tricolour awning, it sits midway down Norton Street, Sydney’s hub of Italian restaurants and stores.  Nearby is a cake store that features an elaborate and mesmerising cake in its window – designed to celebrate a First Holy Communion – a giant cannolo tied with a blue ribbon.

If you like your coffee Italian-style –strong and full of flavour – this is one of the few places in Sydney you’ll find it.

Ordering at the counter is simple – once you can decide! The blackboard menu is extensive, and inexpensive.

Spaghetti Bolognese is my choice and I don’t even have to check the menu to see if it’s on it.

My order of Spaghetti Bolognese ($15.50), Garlic Bread ($3.50), and a Flat White coffee ($3.50) makes a satisfying and filling meal for $23.00.

Aside from Schnitzels, every option on the blackboard menu meets my usual Pimp My Plate $19 budget. There’s Focaccia and Paninis ($8.50), Pasta, Lamb Shanks ($18.50), Veal ($18.50), Soups ($12.90), Corsica Pizza ($19.50), and Sirloin Steak ($18.50). And they do Vegetarian Lasagne ($15.50).

BAR ITALIA is divided into two sections – the restaurant area, and the gelataria, where you can order a gelato and a coffee and sit at a table to eat it.

You can sit inside the restaurant near the framed Godfather LP record, or outdoors, under a canopy of flowering pink bougainvillea. I sit outside with the breeze occasionally sprinkling my table with petals.

My coffee arrives first, in a traditional red and green Vittoria Coffee porcelain cup. It’s what I call ‘industrial strength’ and that’s just how I like my coffee. And it’s coffee without compromise! There’s no Skim Milk, no Light Milk, and no Soy Milk served here.

My side of garlic bread and bowl of spaghetti arrives and I spy the now familiar powdered parmesan cheese.

The spaghetti is al dente, and the Bolognese sauce is good, if basic. There’s no parsley, no carrot, no celery, but the other two restaurants didn’t include those ingredients in their sauce either.

The garlic bread, a Kaiser roll, is better than most. Even so, I can’t finish eating it. Likewise, the quantity of spaghetti is too generous to finish eating it either.

I feel the need to apologise to the waiter when she comes to clear my table. No one likes food wastage.

In the unlikely event I was to run a marathon, this would be the fuel I’d consume. Instead, I plan a long walk along Norton Street, with a food-for-thought stopover at Berkelouw’s bookstore in lieu of dessert.

BAR ITALIA is the type of Italian café-restaurant we all want and need – in every suburb. It’s nice that the staff speaks Italian; it’s nice that the vibe is so relaxed; and it’s nice that you can eat a meal or just sit and enjoy a scoop of gelato.

*    *    *

That brings my quest ‘to see how easy it would be to find Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu’ to an end – for now. I’ll leave it for you to decide which restaurant offers the best overall value.

None of the three restaurants cooked a traditional Bolognese sauce – containing carrots, celery, or bacon, and none offered the option of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

With than in mind, I’ll be posting my own recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese tomorrow, that you can cook yourself.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RATED: Chillaxed and well-fed  FOOD: 3.5/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Authentic   VIBE:  Old skool Italian
BAR ITALIA – 169-171 Norton Street, Leichhardt, Sydney, NSW

(Note: cash only, no cards. There is a multi-bank ATM facility on site)

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

 

 

 

 

 

Pimp My Plate #30 – TRAMSHEDS, Forest Lodge, NSW

1aa-copy

Like so many other Sydneysiders, I ignored the inkblot sky and threat of rain to visit THE TRAMSHEDS – Sydney’s newest foodie space, housed inside the former Rozelle Tramway Depot, originally built in 1904. 

TRAMSHEDS is being touted as ‘A community of Food and Learning’ and today was their Opening Day – a palpable buzz of hungry shoppers, lots of cameras from phone size to full frame. Store vendors scrambled to keep up with demand while juggling brand new ordering and catering systems, as customers kept filling tables.

On offer is an array of artisan bread, pasta, organic produce, a butcher, and lots of cafes and restaurants. Providores share a large space full of natural light and industrial height ceilings. There are lots of hard surfaces but it’s not noisy.

My take-home bag of goodies to eat later included: a loaf of Sourdough bread ($4.95 which is unheard of in price) and several pastries from Supamart; and a jar of Tasmanian Pickled Octopus ($15) from Fish & Co.

My sit-down Lunch was a plate of Prawn Cakes from FISH & CO. ($21)

A fun day out with lots to eat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RATED: Urban edge  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: Industrial chic  VIBE:  Eat, drink, and be merry – esp after finding parking!
TRAMSHEDS – 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, Sydney, NSW
Open 9am-10pm most days

Pimp My Plate #29 – NO NAME, Darlinghurst, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

2-copy

This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese, again!’

In this week’s quest to see if Spaghetti Bolognese has disappeared from Sydney menus, I twirl my fork in one of Darlinghurst’s oldest Italian restaurants.

As I mentioned last week, a traditional version of Bolognese sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

This is the second of three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese I’ll be reviewing.

No Name Restaurant – Ristorante #2

It seems like NO NAME restaurant has been in Darlinghurst for …. forever. Decades ago, when I worked in an advertising agency nearby NO NAMES (as we called it) was a regular hangout on Friday afternoons with the tribe.

I remember this restaurant from as far back as the mid-1970s. Even so, I’d have been shocked if Spaghetti Bolognese had disappeared from the menu.

My heart skips a beat …  Yes! It’s still on the menu. ‘Of course it is,’ I reprimand myself.

I order a ‘small’ Garden Salad ($4 – say whaaat?) to accompany my bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese ($10), and with that I get a complimentary side of bread, a glass of cordial, and a glass of water.

‘Parmesan cheese?’

‘Yes,’ I answer without any expectations of fresh Parmesan cheese.

When it first opened, NO NAME began a tradition of offering simple, no-fuss Italian food, with a rustic style.

Not much has changed since in the style of décor or the food, and that’s its charm. The fact that over so many years NO NAME continues to offer basic Italian meals at a price that seems oblivious to inflation is unique. Especially in a large city like Sydney, where change is a constant of this city’s restaurant scene.

If my memory is correct, the only thing missing on my table compared to ‘back then’ are the little glass salt-shaker bottles full of dried chilli flakes. Part of the Friday lunch ceremony was sprinkling copious amounts of chilli flakes over our bowls of spaghetti. In their place is a sea of bright yellow plastic squeeze bottles full of vinegar. What these are for, I’m not sure, and I don’t care to find out.

My bowl of spaghetti arrives and it looks good, and tastes good. There’s no garnish or carrot – no fuss – but I notice a pleasing ratio of sauce to pasta.

This is cheap and cheerful food. It offers flavour and fills you up, and does both at an incredibly good price. So my second experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is filling, no-frills, and enjoyable. And there’s enough sauce.

NO NAME’S blackboard menu features other dishes including, Schnitzels ($15-$24), Scaloppini w Mushrooms (another old favourite), and Osso Buco (both $12), Liver and Onions ($14), and Steak and Onions ($15).

About the name NO NAME – how did it begin?

According to urban legend, the original restaurant sign kept being knocked down by passing rubbish trucks. Faced with having to continually replace the restaurant sign, eventually the restaurant was left with no name – literally.

*    *   *

After lunch, I head downstairs to Darlinghurst’s other long term resident, THE ARCH, for dessert: a great cup of coffee and a crunchy pistachio biscotti.

My next and final Spaghetti Bolognese encounter is next week.

RATED: No frills  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4.5/5   ATMOS: Minimalist   VIBE:  No-frills fun
NO NAME – 2 Chapel Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate   @awiaskitchen

Pimp My Plate #28 – BRAVO, Crows Nest, NSW

PIMP MY PLATE is back in Australia and back to a budget of AUD$19-ish.

top-pic-copy

This month I’m posting a series of three café reviews focused on one particular dish. Remember that old Italian-Australian favourite Spaghetti Bolognese?

‘Pimp my Bolognese!’

Spaghetti – do you swirl it, scoop it, or slurp it?

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne. Or other broad, flat pasta shapes like pappardelle or fettuccine. In Australia, however, the sauce is synonymous with spaghetti.

How do you feel about those two words: Spaghetti Bolognese? Can you remember the days when every Italian restaurant table in Australia wore a red checked tablecloth, and an empty wax-covered Chianti bottle sat on top of it? Or maybe you’ve parked that dish too far back in your memory?

Or maybe you’ve never even seen it on a menu?!

In Italian cuisine Bolognese sauce is known as ragù alla Bolognese, a meat-based sauce originating from, you guessed it, Bologna, in Italy.

A traditional version of the sauce includes onion, celery, and carrot, different types of minced or chopped beef, and sometimes small amounts of fatty pork, red wine, tomato concentrate and/or ripe tomatoes.

Most Italian restaurants in Australia have now replaced red checked tablecloths with crisp white ones, or smooth wooden tabletops. Bottles of Chianti are stocked behind the bar unless you BYO – Australian vernacular for ‘Bring Your Own’.

In 2016 has Spaghetti Bolognese disappeared from menus altogether? My quest is to find out.

I’ll be reviewing three plates of Spaghetti Bolognese from three different restaurants, over three weeks. Each week I’ll post a review, and it’s up to you to choose which version you’d prefer to eat.

Let’s begin.

Bravo Trattoria – Ristorante #1

Over the years BRAVO has changed its menu, and its location. The ‘old’ BRAVO, situated in busy Falcon Street, opened in 1995. Its front counter was THE go-to for true Italian gelato, and people – including me – would travel distances to eat it.

The restaurant section featured a mural of Italian figures sitting, relaxing, playing guitar. Above them was a hand-painted list of the 101 different sauces you could order with your pasta.

Tragic circumstances closed the restaurant for several years, then BRAVO reopened ‘around the corner’ in 2013 in a newly fitted out space, offering an upmarket menu, and a new lease on life – ‘Bravo!’

Today is Saturday and the restaurant is full of diners eating lunch, but I only have to wait a few minutes. I take a seat and check the blackboard, scrolling past Risotto Calamari with peas and ricotta ($24.90), and Beef Ribs w cauliflower puree and cavolo nero ($34.90).

I spy Spaghetti Bolognese ($19.90) on the printed menu and order it, while my dining companion orders the risotto.

Also on the blackboard menu is BRAVO’s special dish, Spaghetti Amatriciana Guanciali ($24.90). My waitress explains that BRAVO is donating a percentage of the meal price to aid victims of the recent earthquake in Amatrice, Italy. Bravo! BRAVO.

I plunge my fork into my friend’s risotto for a taste, and it’s good. Now to focus on my spaghetti!

I pick up my fork and spoon – I’m a twirler. But first I tease the spaghetti, to distribute the Bolognese sauce through it.

The waitress places a small bottle of Parmesan cheese powder on the table, and I ask if they have any fresh Parmesan to grate over my plate. They don’t have it, I’m told. I’m a little stunned that any Italian restaurant would not have fresh Parmesan cheese on the premises, and I suddenly feel like I’ve been transported back to the 1970s. I can almost understand why a restaurant might prefer not to offer expensive cheese with a cheaper basic meal… Wait a minute, no I can’t! But to not have any in the restaurant AT ALL?

The spaghetti is al dente as you’d expect, or how I would describe it – springy, with an enjoyable bite and just how I like it. However the sauce disappeared into the nest of pasta almost immediately.

The amount of pasta is generous, but my eyes are asking for more sauce, or more ragu. There’s no evidence of carrot or celery in this sauce but it does have flavour. Are there onions? I can’t tell.

It’s a filling meal but I’m left wanting more ….  sauce. Several gratings of fresh cheese would have lifted this dish to another level  … of both taste, and passion.

So my first experience of Spaghetti Bolognese is a little disappointing.

Dessert however is a different story – ‘delizioso’!

The Sicilian Cannoli ($5.70 each piece) with pistachio nuts is rocking my taste buds. My cannolo is filled with a lemon-scented custard that is light, delicious, and not too sweet. A single piece of cannoli is called cannolo which means, ‘little tube’.

As a side note: my companion rated his Risotto Calamari 3.5 out of 5.

‘Grazie per il pasto.’

What will I discover next week?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RATED: Fresh Parmesan cheese please!  FOOD: 3/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 3.5/5   VIBE:  Always friendly and consistent
BRAVO TRATTORIA  59 Willoughby Rd, Crows Nest NSW

 

Pimp My Plate #27 – Cambridge, MA

1 copy

This month PIMP MY PLATE visits the USA to see if Boston can pimp my plate. With AUD$19 currently equivalent to USD$14.50 excluding tips and taxes there’s no set budget in my search for flavour.

‘Soul food made with 100% love’

The Coast Cafe

I don’t have a bucket list as such. My plan is to munch my way around the world, leaving a stack of empty plates behind me.

Some of those plates would have been heaped with soul food – collard greens, wing tips, BBQ, cornbread…

And if you live in Australia like I do, it requires a passport to achieve this particular soul food goal.

I’m so dedicated to this concept that in 2013 I wrote a book about soul food, Soulicious, after eating my way through as many soul food restaurants in the USA as I could waddle into.

I remember my first taste of collard greens – my Collard Greens Initiation – at Brown Sugar in Oakland.  I remember munching my last plate of greens in 2015 so it’s been a long time between greens!

Before flying to Boston, I sat in wintery Sydney reading Korsha Wilson’s article about Tony Brooks’ COAST CAFÉ. For twelve years this iconic soul food café has been serving Southern dishes to hungry northerners from its tiny storefront in River Street.

In the article, Brooks explains that the recipes originally came from his mother, who grew up in Mississippi, and his father, who was from Connecticut. These days he adds his own tweaks to recipes.

I add THE COAST CAFÉ to my Boston ‘To Do’ List.

*  *  *

I finally arrive in Boston on a Sunday, after 27 hours travelling time.
THE COAST CAFÉ is only open Wednesday to Saturday so I’ll have to wait.

*  *  *

‘Taxi!’

As we drove across the Charles River, my taxi driver informed me that we were now in Cambridge, not ‘Boston’.

As we neared THE COAST CAFÉ signage and pulled over at 233 River Street, I was suddenly VERY HUNGRY.

Starters.
Sandwiches.
Sides.
Special side orders.
Combo plates.
Coffee.

After my collard greens drought, my choice of two sides is easy – collards, and mac’n’cheese.

BBQ Pork and Beef Ribs (USD$15.49) are on the blackboard menu but then I see CATFISH (USD$16.59).

Back home, Australians are big on BBQ but we don’t eat catfish. There’s catfish in some of our waterways, but it’s not on our menus.

Barramundi is our rock star fish as any tourist knows. It can live in freshwater or saltwater – in streams, rivers, lakes, billabongs, estuaries and coastal waters. We also eat a wide range of saltwater fish that includes snapper and bream, and river fish like rainbow trout.

Pretty much everything except catfish, so I seize the opportunity.

There’s a choice of BBQ Wings or Coast Wings (USD$10.59). When I ask the difference between the two I’m told the Coast Wings aren’t rolled in a layer of flour before frying, so I order them. There’s homemade BBQ or Jerk sauce for the wings – I order Jerk Sauce.

That covers the entrée, sides, and main. What’s missing? Dessert.
It’s been a long while since I last ate Banana Pudding

I take a seat and check my phone messages, IMs, emails, Facebook, and flight times.

A black box with plastic cutlery arrives with cornbread and coleslaw.
I flip it open and dive in…

It’s the best Catfish I’ve ever eaten – super fresh, perfectly crumbed and perfectly cooked.

And that first mouth full of collard greens is Oh-So-Good after oh so long!

There’s no satisfactory substitute for collard greens. Not mustard greens. Not spinach. Not turnip tops. Just …. no.

As soon as the Coast Wings arrive in their red striped box, I crack open the container of Jerk sauce and start dipping. Oh. My. Yes!

When the banana pudding arrives there’s no meringue topping  – ok I am disappointed – but the custard is studded with fresh banana slices and Nilla Wafer pieces.

We do have banana pudding in Australia, but we don’t have Nilla Wafer biscuits and we do it differently – no vanilla wafers.

No collards, no catfish, no Nilla Wafers – now do you understand why I mainline soul food at every opportunity?

Soul food is feel good food. And I feel good.

Looking around I notice a number of soulful messages pinned up on the walls of the café, and I’m sure there’s a backstory to each of them.

However, the owner, Tony Brooks, takes me by surprise by suddenly appearing from the kitchen to say hello! It’s really nice to meet the man on the t-shirt and have a chat. I tell him I’ve travelled all the way from Australia to eat at his café, and that’s no lie.

It’s also no secret that Tony has plans to expand to other locations soon. I suggest he opens a store in Australia as well, Sydney perhaps?

He seems to think it’s a good idea, but I better not hold my breath. But why not plant the seed, right?

Wherever they do open next I envy their customers because COAST CAFÉ serves some of the most mouth friendly soul food I’ve eaten. It’s not fancy, it’s simply delicious.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RATED: Pimped!  FOOD: 4/5
VALUE: 4/5   ATMOS: 4/5   VIBE:  Feel Good & Good eating
THE COAST CAFÉ – 233 River St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Visit me on facebook at Awia’s Kitchen or twitter: @pimpmyplate