Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A City and Herb so Fresh it’s MINT: Part 2.

Back again with a few more Minty Melbourne Tales. Starting with a mint-laden meal shared with a few of my faves in the funky district of Fitzroy. A casual Greek-inspired restaurant that goes by the name: Jimmy Grants. This was the perfect midweek munch, with a menu featuring souvas or souvlakis, crunchy flavoursome salads, spit-roasted meat, tasty sides and plenty of persuasive options to have you finishing up on sweet street.

Jimmy G's Sweet Spread ft. Prawn Attiki & all that Fresh Mint! 

Run by the culinary genius George Calombaris – after watching him as Judge on Australian Masterchef and his recent guest appearance on NZ Masterchef – it’s not hard to see why this food tasted awesome. With his effervescent passion for food and the young vibrant team, they run a pretty 'hip' ship both in the real world and in cyber space. With just a touch of that Greek wit managing to shine through on every plate and Instagram pic. See for yourself here - @jimmygrants

Chips & Dips. The Best kind.

As expected we ordered a little bit of everything. From the ‘Bonegilla’ Souva filled with lamb + chicken + mustard aioli + chips + onion + parsley, to the ‘Homer’ stuffed with falafels + greek yoghurt + hellenic slaw through to the ‘Patris’ (my pick) packed with prawns + attiki honey + mayo + cucumber + coriander and that wee gem herself, mint. Each was a genuinely joyous combo wrapped in a soft, pillowy yet delightfully chewy pita bread. Simple and so god dam delicious. No fancy price tag here either, each souva costs less than $9 and all were devoured within minutes.

Glory Bowls ft. Iceberg Salad & Hellenic Slaw. 

Our accompaniments went by the name of Hellenic slaw - shredded cabbage with honey & balsamic dressing, then came the classic Iceberg Salad - dressed with oregano, lemon and olive oil. Finally one (or was it two?) plates of chips, spiked with garlic oil, feta & oregano. Each dish had me licking the bowl for every last fleck of greek-greatness. Jimmy Grants was a definite highlight on the trip, so unpretentious, so affordable and so very quintessential Melbourne. A must-visit if you find yourself across the ditch.

'Jimmy's Wheel' took us to the end of Sweet Street with a Giant Peanut Butter & Raspberry Jam Mallow puff. 

My final mint memoir was the last hurrah – in the form of a cocktail enjoyed with my mother at the Melbourne airport. Not one to normally hit the cocktails, the combination of Bacardi white rum, lime, sugar syrup, soda water and fresh mint seemed to twist my arm and this refreshing bevvy went down a treat. 

Ice Cold & Mint. 

Since Melbourne, Mint has been incorporated into as many meals and dishes as possible, at any time of the day. From sweet minty morning omelettes, to flavouring salad bowls, whizzed into smoothies and freshening up my water bottle. I may or may not have gone mad about mint.

Despite a lack in mint of the fresh kind, the next destination was a must-try and one I simply had to include. A place that truly did make my Melbourne trip MINT! Gelato Messina is the godfather of all gelato. If you know your gelato – you’ll know Messina and if not, you probably should. With a few stores throughout Australia it has quickly become something of an institution and it's not hard to see why. 

One freezer of five. Mint (the Choc version) included!

Classic flavours are made fresh daily, along with a handful of weekly specials the smooth spoonfuls of heaven were knocking on the door of my life highlights. You can only imagine my face when I saw the variety on offer.  The phrase ‘I die!’ somehow felt like understatement.

Decision made. One of the best of my life.

With flavours including: The Mighty GM – Peanut Butter Gelato w/ Choco Crust, Chocolate Custard, Banana Jam & Peanut Cream, to Pretty Shady – Passionfruit Sorbet w/ Coconut Lychee & Black Sesame Praline, to Pannacotta with Fig Jam & Amaretti Biscuits. Dribbling yet? Then there’s their signature flavour range featuring: Salted Caramel & White Chocolate, Apple Pie, Chocolate Sorbet, Bounty and Baklava. We were served by a gorgeous foreign girl, who sensed our excitement and more than happily provided us with ‘testers’ of her top ten flavours. After more 'OMG YUM' moments than a girl could count , I was faced with decision time. Which flavour would make the cup?

Take Two. Lunch is served ft. Tiramisu, Pistachio & Salted Coconut & Mango.

After several minutes of deliberation I opted for three (very generous) scoops of the following: Pear & White Balsamic, Poached Figs in Masala and the stunning Salted Coconut & Mango. All three were simply incredible, so good that three more giant scoops became lunch on my final day. This second time I went a touch more traditional with Tiramisu, Pistachio and  more of that Salted Coconut & Mango glory. Take my word on it – you don’t mess with Messina. x

Thursday, 6 March 2014

A City and Herb so Fresh it’s MINT: Part 1.

Two words. Mint + Melbourne. Both signature parts of the recent adventure that inspired, excited and tantalised tastebuds. A delightful mother-daughter trip across the ditch to taste the hub of cutting edge cuisine and enjoy the food-lovers playground that is, Melbourne City. With a simple herb making its presence known on various plates throughout the weekend, it was the excessive dose of fresh Mint that made our trip all the more memorable.

And so it began: DIY Rice Paper Rolls w. Peanut Sauce & Minty Corn Fritters. 

After being on the list for a few years now, I had prepared my senses to explore, smell, watch, touch, listen and ultimately taste what the Melbourne food scene had to offer. I acquired a range of research outlets to help me on my adventure – Google searching, instagram scrolling/stalking, emailing and gathering advice from local and respected food-loving personnel. Basically every meal was booked out well before I left the ground. 

As you can imagine there are far too many meals (ahem calories) to share in one post. So without further or do I give you just a few of my mint-related morsels and Melbourne moments.

Simplicity wins once again. 

Let’s start with ‘Fresh Mint Tea’, this tall luscious glass of boiling water and a wad of that cooling, fragrant herb. Found at the sparkling new Allpress Roastery in Collingwood, Melbourne. This local, flagship store is a welcome addition to the successful kiwi-born coffee empire. With a winning combination of sublime coffee, intriguing food, magically crafted architecture and a sunny courtyard to forget all life’s worries. I also know a certain creative creature that plays here, a truly talented artist both in and out of the kitchen.

A definite dining highlight was the Melbourne restaurant legend known as Chin Chin. This culinary machine focused on thoughtful and attentive service with glorious food from all over South East Asia. With a full, buzzing restaurant and lines out the door – (just to put your name on the waiting list!) our 5.30pm dinner date was replaced with an hour and a half wait, and a pleasant beverage at the nearby Rooftop Bar. Never one to stress about waiting for sort-after food, my world first problem was not how long til we eat, but more, ‘how the hell do I chose what to order!?!’ 

Spicy Corn & Coriander Fritters w. Chilli Jam, Iceberg wedges & Fresh Mint leaves! 
I can assure you, that despite the pun everything really was MINT. And true to its Asian flair many of the dishes starred this luscious fragrant herb. Spicy Corn & Coriander Fritters served with chilli jam and lettuce cups (I see you drooling) were assembled and devoured instantaneously. These little beauties were sensational, such a perfect balance of flavour, spice and texture. Crunchy iceberg shells, encased the crispy fried fritters, filled with sweet, juicy corn kernels, peppery coriander, a dollop of punchy chilli jam and finished with that single fragrant mint leaf.

Caramelised Pork + Crispy Barramundi + Green Apple Mint Salad. Done.

As Miss Piggy has mentioned before here, you’ll be hard pressed to see me by-pass a pork belly on any menu. However this dish was Mums choice, and boy was it a good one. Crispy Barramundi with Green Apple Salad & Caramelised Pork. Such an intriguing combination, that made so much sense. Encouraged by the waiter to share a bite of fish, salad and pork all together, was advice I did not need to be told twice. Words escape me. The pork drenched in caramel was next level amazing, cut through by the crunch and freshness of the apple mint salad. It was enriched even further by the golden, firm and flavoursome barramundi. Too good! All elements had their place, and with its companions - coriander and kaffir lime – for me the mint brought it together in perfect harmony. 

Despite a lack of mint, this final dish lacked nothing else: Spiced Coconut Curry with Fried Silken Tofu, Boiled Egg & Okra. Note the Roti to the right. Heavenly.

After perusing their cookbook, it was no surprise to hear that over 500 servings of this dish are sold every week at Chin Chin. And I felt pretty special to have demolished one of them. We returned inspired, gifting the cookbook to our own culinary goddess. Following an afternoon well-spent in the kitchen with my favourite cook, we produced a seriously good rendition of the Spicy corn fritters, along with Red Curry of Roast Duck with Lychees, Pork & Peanut with Cassava crackers, a bloody good attempt on the Yellow Curry of Roast Pumpkin with Grilled Tofu and finally our take on that winning Fish/Pork/Salad combo using Kingfish, a Chinese-style Pork belly and that zingy refreshing salad. Our extended food-loving family were left replete and seriously impressed. Not one to rave about her cooking even the lady of the house was blown away with our efforts. 

Our efforts ft. Kingfish & Chinese-style Pork Belly & plenty of toasted peanuts, coriander & fresh mint!

On the back of a busy summer this feasting excursion was my idea of the perfect holiday. Despite being over a month on each mouthful is still so vivid in my mind, and I haven't even got to the gelato yet! Plenty more to be shared…Part 2 coming soon. x