Thursday, April 25, 2013

Red Robin Supper Club Presents Brunch

The Red Robin Supper Club (RRSC) is a social media success story with more than 900 hungry Facebook followers watching eagle eyed for Rory Doyle's next pop up service. Necessity is the mother of invention and when Rory found himself in the midst of the global financial crisis and with the end of his apprenticeship fast approaching he struck upon the idea of hiring an existing restaurant and opening it on a night when it wasn't usually open to serve his own unique menu. 

Genius stuff as not only do you build your profile as a chef, you know exactly how many tables you're serving but provide your customers with a unique experience. In the weeks leading up to an event Rory will set a date, release menu tib bits to keep you salivating before opening email reservations on a designated date and time. From there you draft your email, fire it off at 6pm on the dot, stand on one leg, sacrifice a small animal to whatever heathen Food God you pray to and hope for the best. Despite being on the other side of the world, for the first time ever I was successful in getting a booking, I was elated!  

So on Sunday, April 14 Spensley and I set out across town for La Finestra at Camp Hill. We ensured that we had the appropriate amount to grab coffee from another store in the enclave as we were briefed earlier that alas the coffee machine would not be repaired in time. We forced ourselves past the girls at L'Miao Bakery, who were setting up their pop up stand, and were briskly seated by the front of house staff. Spensley picked the kale sauteed with chilli and garlic, crispy chorizo, eggs how you like them served on thick pieces of toasted sourdough. It looked absolutely amazing but I was looking for something a little milder and opted for the Crab Cake Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich.

Crab Cake Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich
The buttermilk biscuit was layered with rocket, sliced tomato, topped with the fried crab cake and a generous blob of zesty mayo. I could use a more aesthetically pleasing word like dab or quinelle but no it was a blob and it was completely necessary for tying the dish together. The buttermilk biscuit was beautifully light, slightly sweet and worked well with the fresh ingredients but the mayo gave the dish the moisture that you needed to work your way through it. It was gorgeous and we left completely full. But we couldn't come all this way without a piece of L'Miao Bakery. 

Nutella Crack Pie
Somehow in my haste I had missed the message on Facebook that the girls were taking pre-orders and was completely devastated to find the Pear and Honey Cake had sold out so instead opted to purchase a few pieces of the much-hyped Nutella Crack Pie. Crack Pie often sports an oat cookie crust which gives balances our the sweetness and the L'Miao offering is no different. Intense nutella flavour without being sickeningly sweet. L'Miao also specialises in gluten free and vegan treats so keep an eye out for their next pop up spot. It was an excellent morning so I highly recommend liking the RRSC and L'Miao Facebook Page and staying alert to ensure you can get onboard for the next pop up event. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Ritz: London

Being a great lover of scones with lashings of jam and cream meant the one foodie extravagance that I had to have in London was a session at the Ritz. As you can expect, the Ritz being the institution that is runs high tea from mid morning, all the way up to its last session at 7.30pm, which was the session we booked. After making an online booking, we then received a rather pointed set of instructions via email declaring that all men were required to wear a collared shirt and tie and for women, a dress! A dress indeed! Surely there would be an exception to prevent a girl from Australia freezing to death? But alas the Ritz makes no such exception and for good reason too.

For when you step through the front doors you are awe struck by the Parisian opulence of the place. All the gold, marble and ornate plaster work. There is an inhouse pianist, an accompanying string quartet and staff to exchange the heavy burden of your coat for a petite tasselled token. You are seated, offered coffee or a choice of one of their 17 teas which are served from heavy silverware bearing the Ritz lion standard. 

At the appropriate time a three tier stand in brought to your table bearing only two plates, one containing petite cakes (macaron, mille feuille and two rich chocolate cakes) and the other sandwiches. Each guest receives one each of the following sandwiches which means you don’t have to resort to paper, scissors, rock off for the salmon one:
  • Ham Sandwich with Grain Mustard Mayonnaise on White Bread
  • Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Chutney on Onion Bread
  • Cucumber Sandwich with Cream Cheese, Dill, and Chives on Caraway Seed Bread
  • Chicken Breast Sandwich with Horseradish Cream on White Bread
  • Scottish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Butter on Rye Bread
  • Egg Mayonnaise Sandwich with Chopped Shallots and Watercress on White Bread
During our sitting we were offered extra sandwiches, but I suspect this was because we were the last session as it’s an uphill battle to chomp, munch and politely belch through plain and raisin scones, a yogurt palette cleanser and your choice of cake.

Somehow through the misty forests of the food coma, PIE (Partner in Eating), and I realised that if it we didn’t ask for the bill before the session ended it would be a complete bum fight to acquire a cab back to our hotel (a complete necessity due to be being forced to wear a dress) so we asked for our bill early. One can only assume that billing is completed by one individual and as a result when our waiter brought us a bill totalling £45.00 it came somewhat as a shock. £45.00 equates approximately to a princely $66 AUD and ought to be the amount for just one guest at the Ritz. So I said, “quick, Spensley, put down the money. Let’s grab our coats and if they stop us say, we thought one meant one bill for the table.” We put down our pounds, tossed our token at the cloakroom for our coats and walked briskly towards the door and into a waiting cab. It was only then that I declared, “22 odd pounds each for the Ritz, that’s fair.” Australians, convicts. But really what what's the worst they could do? Send us home? 

Rome, Paris, London

The biggest nightmare for most children is being dragged to the local General Practitioner and pinned against the door as they shrieking their defiance at the seasonal vaccination. For me, it was bi-annual pilgrimage to Queensland Book Depot (QBD) where my Mother would take great joy in purchasing holiday text books to ensure her children would be fully prepared when they returned to school. Thanks to this sadistic study regime I’ve spend the majority of my life chained to my desk with only the occasional opportunity to head back to China. But in the last six months I’ve seen more of the world than I could have ever hoped for. I’ve been to Taiwan, hopped around East Coast of America and thanks to Spensley I’ve just returned from Rome, Paris and London.

Zuppa Di Verdure, Rome

My favourite location on this journey was Rome, a chaotic unplanned city that had been left to grow organically for thousands of years. The houses lapped the roads and with no footpaths, pedestrians, parked and moving vehicles were left to jostle for priority. There were no designated shopping precincts so it took me three days to locate white-out and when I did, the store was around the corner from our apartment. But the one thing I couldn’t get over with Rome was just how far the Euro stretched. €5 brought you a transfer by coach from the airport to the main station, €3.50 brought you a cappuccino and a flaky custard filled pastry and for €24 you could eat like a king! It brought an entree, two mains, dessert and wine! Pizza, pasta, risotto, but even this smorgasbord of carbohydrates would not stop my tastebuds from craving the flavours of home so one night Spensley and I cooked a simple steak dinner. The steak was incredibly pale and tender, the spinach fresh but God those Italian tomatoes were just packed with flavour. They punched you in the face without the aid of balsamic and a dab of brown sugar. At another point on the trip we would have killed for soup and after wandering the block managed to find a cafe that served a simple Zuppa Di Verdure or if you opted for pasta, it was touted as Minestrone Di Verdure. But before you screw up your face it was nothing like the Minestrone you would find in Australia as the vegetables were perfectly cooked and the delicate broth lightly flavoured with tomato. Superb!

Millefeuille, Paris

After four days of glorious Rome we boarded the night train to Paris. Spensley and I were travelling first class (think Orient Express, James Bond) as the only other option offered by the Thello was sharing with three other strange men or women. So you can imagine our shock when we opened the door to our cabin to find one manky couch and just enough room in the aisle to leave your suitcase upright. Everything was built vertically so when we next inspected the bunk (which was only suitable for one) we were shocked to find what could only be described as insane asylum straps. Spensley quickly decided this was important as if the train suddenly stopped (which it did over the course of the journey) your body might roll, but your neck would not and would be clipped by the ladder conveniently positioned at neck level. After braving the stuffy confides we emerged victorious in Paris. Our hotel had the good fortune to be position around the corner from the most amazing bakery with a constant stream of locals enjoying crusty baguettes generously appointed with brie, yogurt thick with raspberries, champignon filled quiches and most decadent pastries. We also had the most gorgeous millefeuille at Lenotre on route home from the Louvre. While we had some concerns about the quality of food served being on a tourist strip it was beautifully made and the waiter elegantly divided it with such flourish that we felt almost criminal devouring it. However we can’t say all things in Paris are equal so if see the chain Paul, I would advocate staying well away.

Salmon, Rocket and Roast Beetroot Salad, London

After a brief two day jaunt in Paris we took off on a British Airways flight to London. It only dawned on me when an air hostess was offering me a packet of crisps that we were indeed travelling to yet another country. Because after I quickly responded that I would love a biscuit and the brain too stock and realised that crisps were chips and GOD I FREAKING LOVE CHIPS! We were delighted not only did the Grosvenor have restaurant standard room service but there was a Chinese Restaurant in the foyer. I’m sure the staff thought I was mad as I made such a fuss when I received my bowl of plain white rice as while we were in Rome we barely saw anything on offer other than Italian and while there was ample Japanese in Paris it wasn’t the plain jasmine rice of home. We also ecstatic to see an egg with a runny yolk at Le Pain Quotidien a bakery and communal table chain hailing from Belgium. The store had an amazing range of fresh options and perhaps Le Pain Quotidien’s origins helped it supply good coffee as the English serve awful coffee. 

Raspberry Cheesecake, Reading

The only other place we found a solid cup was the Workhouse Coffee Company in Reading which was owned by an Australian. Apart from their coffees, the Workhouse Coffee Company also serve amazing baked delights and we sampled freshly baked Pear Tart, Lemon Meringue and the pictured Raspberry Cheesecake with actual raspberries, not just puree as found back in Australia. It was an amazing experience and I could tell you so much about the culture, the people, the theatre but it just won’t fit in one article. For all the reading you might do and all the television you might watch, it just doesn't come close to the experience.