Sunday, October 12, 2014

Corned beef and quinces

Last Thursday we went to Bistrode to eat. I love the location and the ambience of the place. It feels like the old butchers shop it once was – and so it should. I had a silverbeet and parmesan tart, with unctuous and finely crumbling pastry, designed to halve the size of your arteries on the spot. The sour taste of the silverbeet was properly offset by the richness of the cheese. This dish needs a strong, definite vegetable to pair with the Parmesan – it was comforting to see an ingredient like silverbeet which had long crept out of favour and fashion used well. I get a very slight sense that silverbeet may be in the process of being discovered again – when of course it has been here all the time, just neglected and unused. Perhaps silverbeet will become the new pork belly. Perhaps not.

Then for my main course I had to have the corned wagyu beef I ate here last time. This time it came with dense cornmeal dumplings and heirloom carrots. My partner in crime had grass-fed Scotch fillet with roasted bone marrow and we had excellent Roman beans on the side. I stuck to the mineral water and she had a shiraz from the Barossa. Beforehand we stopped at Toko and I had another mineral water in a rather funky bottle and she had a German riesling which tasted excellent – very dry but complex and lavish. For dessert we shared a cows milk yoghurt cheesecake with poached quinces.

I am impressed with the way the Bistrode approach to food draws on the English tradition, almost as part of European cooking. They are not afraid to try remakes of traditional food – silverbeet, corned beef, but to lift it up to a whole new level. No pork belly here. Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far, away – well actually, Adelaide – I used to get the local butcher (when there were still local butchers – he went out of business soon afterwards) to corn bolar cuts of beef for me and I would live on corned beef for the next week. Corned beef with white sauce was my speciality. At that early age I even learned how to make a roux.

Experimenting is all well and good (and we loved the Bentley Bar and Grill for just that) but sometimes a culinary tradition which underpins experimentation with a culturally diverse foundation and allows interaction between traditions can shine a light on overlooked or undervalued ingredients, techniques and approaches.

Waiting for an appointment yesterday morning, I read in a magazine (miraculously up to date, but only because the receptionist brought them in herself) about David Thompson and his history with Thai cooking. For his first book, Thai Food, which we have on our shelves, he drew on his collection of 'memory books', which are handed round at the cremation of Thais. They record their lives, including their interests, which as he comments for Thais, are often around food. They may include two or three recipes but many have twenty or more.

From April 2010

See also

'tableland' on Facebook – life on the land and at the table
'Life on the land and at the table, the companion Facebook site to this blog, for brief and topical snippets and vignettes about land to table – the daily routine of living in the high country, on the edge of the vast Pacific, just up from Sydney, just down from Mount Kosciuszko', 'tableland' on Facebook.

A princess comes home – paulownia trees and Japanese wedding chests
‘Recently I planted a new tree in my garden – a paulownia tree. I bought it because I have a 1930s Japanese wedding chest from near Tokyo made from kiri or paulownia, the very tree I have acquired and planted. It is named in honour of Queen Anna Pavlovna of The Netherlands (1795–1865), daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia. For this reason it is also often called ‘princess tree’ wood. It is very versatile – it has also been used in electric guitar bodies and in surboards in Australia. It was once customary to plant a paulownia tree when a baby girl was born and then to make it into a chest as a wedding present when she married. This is unlikely to be the fate of my tree but it’s comforting to know that at a pinch it could be uprooted and converted into a wardrobe for some deserving niece’, A princess comes home - paulownia trees and Japanese wedding chests.

I must go down to the sea again – Sailor’s Thai Canteen still cooking 
‘We went back to a favourite spot, Sailors Thai Canteen, established by renowned chef David Thompson who has now long relocated to Bangkok, where it all originates. There were just the two of us so we kept it simple. Remembring people and places. Memory is all we have to hold the world together. Memories of eating and drinking together are a big part of that. Eating, drinking and talking – about everything and nothing, till the cows come home’, I must go down to the sea again – Sailor’s Thai Canteen still cooking.

Peas in a pod – food takes off
‘Pod Food is in the heart of the slightly ramshackle gardening and nursery hub of Canberra, Pialligo , adjacent to the burgeoning exercise in urban growth called Canberra Airport. It was always the place you went to get large pots and even larger apples. Pod Food was always good enough – but now it is something a whole lot more impressive. On a rainy Friday I entered through their marvellous cottage garden entrance way to sit on the covered and contained outside deck. The entrance to Pod Food, formerly part of an operating nursery, is the sort of garden I eventually want to have. It felt highly suitable sitting at the entrance to the Australian high country as the rain came down, drinking the fine product of another high region on the opposite side of the world’, Peas in a pod – food takes off.

Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven
‘It had been quite a week and I had been crushed by too many encounters with the crazy world of Centrelink as I fulfilled my long list of aged care responsibilities. I needed cheering up so last night ate out at the venerable Italian and Sons, the very first of the many funky venues which now enliven Braddon. My attention was drawn to the rare appearance of vitello tonnato. My imagination had been captured decades ago when I was a young boy by seeing the recipe for the dish in Margaret Fulton’s classic cookbook. I finally tried it in a tiny restaurant in Florence, during my first visit overseas, after a stint at the massive Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989. This most recent one was the best I have ever eaten outside my own home – well, perhaps the best anywhere. This is a favourite place, probably my most favourite in Canberra. Coming here always makes me feel happy and what more can you ask?’, Vitello Tonnato for a life well lived in hipster heaven.

Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century
‘On a day and night which was bitterly cold – as cold as Canberra has been this year, with the hint of snow clouds overhead – I was reminded why I live here. As we wandered along after a full day of cultural institutions and design events, looking for somewhere to eat we impetuously popped into Restaurant Eightysix and even more impetuously were able to get a table. I had forgotten reading somewhere that famed long-former Adelaide chef, Christine Manfield was here for the month, cooking up an Asian-inspired menu. How much better could it get?’, Eating out in a cold, funky city – Canberra comes of age in the Asian Century.

Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo
‘Where the market gardens that supplied Canberra as far back as the 1820s used to be a small fortune has been spent turning 86 acres overlooking the Eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin into a superb regional restaurant, Pialligo Estate Farmhouse Restaurant. It made for a tremendous birthday lunch in a spacious airy and light space, full of exciting food treated well. I couldn’t take my eyes off the copper guttering and downpipes. I thought all the loose copper in the world had already been stolen but clearly it’s still available. It’s quite clear that even though work is still being finalised, when it is finished it will be a spectacular addition to the nation’s capital and the region’, Smoking for broke beside the Molongolo.

Provenance - knowing where good things come from
‘It took me only five years but I finally found my way to Provenance, the legendary regional restaurant established by chef Michael Ryan in Beechworth in 2010. Provenance is widely considered one of the best restaurants in regional Victoria, in a tiny state that contains many good regional restaurants. I had been meaning to eat there since it was established and given how regularly we travel to Beechworth and its surrounds I was amazed I hadn’t been earlier. It took some time but it was worth it’, Provenance - knowing where good things come from

In praise of the Berra
‘When I first moved to Canberra, almost as an accidental intersection of geography and employment after the Sydney Olympics, I used to say “if you had lived in Sydney and one day you woke up and discovered you were in Canberra, you would think you had died.” Then I changed my mind. It took ten years but it was inevitable. Berrans are a hardy bunch – they can withstand the hot winds of summer and of Australia’s Parliament, the chill flurries from the Snowy Mountains and the chilling news of budget cuts. The Berra is half-way between everywhere’, In praise of the Berra.

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