Friday, 11 October 2013

Breaking the Birthday Law: Grass, Amphoras, The Nic and The Moon

I broke the fourth commandment of Bri's Birthday Law by coming to work. However, in a busy week with my boss away and a whole lot of organisation to be done, the luxury of a day at home just wasn't on the cards this year. 

Still, I was determined that despite a lot of general crapness that has been going on of late, I was going to have as good a birthday as possible. I was going to be kind to myself and treat me to some quality me-time if possible.

Breakfast for one seemed a good place to start. Grass Espresso is my latest West Perth discovery and perhaps my choice to go there today had a lot to do with the fact that I could have a glass of Pommery N.V. along with my mocha and eggs Benedict. If you ever feel like toasting me with champagne (you know, if the whim strikes you...) then Pommery in all its wheaty gold goodness is my declared favourite.

Like a putting green but sideways.

I like it at Grass and not just because of their astroturf walls. They are all so smiley there and sometimes, though not this time, they do latte art teddy bears on the top of your coffee. Even without a friendly bear, my mocha was excellent, good coffee with some chocolate in it and not the other way around.
The eggs Benedict, sorry, Grass Benedict, was just right too. I’m not much of a breakfast person, but eggs Benedict is the dish most likely to sway me into matutinal eating. It’s the Hollandaise that does it for me – nothing quite like a creamy, tangy sauce over the top of warm poached eggs with just enough liquidity in the yolk. Add a generous ripple of smoked salmon, and alfalfa sprouts on top of a white doorstep of bread – this is a breakfast worth having.
I had a moment’s nostalgia when the eggs were served up on an apple-green plate. When I was a kiddie, I had a favourite poem (which I cannot find online anywhere) which put forward the idea that food tasted better ‘off apple-green plates’ and to this day, on the rare occasion when an apple-green plate is placed before me, I think of that poem and smile. Apple-green plates and the shimmer of Pommery, opened and poured in front of me, and I was off to a very good start.

Arriving at work, I thought my luck had changed when I discovered two police cars parked out the front. I almost turned around and went home. The thought of having to deal with the thin blue line (and, yes, it has happened to me in the past) made me not a little anxious. It turned out, however, that it was nothing to do with my building, so huge sigh of relief and on with business as usual.

Somebody else's problem.
Lunch was more sociable than breakfast and I was lucky enough to have the company of wonderful work and blogger friends (thank you for joining me Nic, Mel, Liv, and Sarah-Jane!) for tapas and prosecco in the sunshine. Amphoras never lets me down and it was really, really kind of the wait-staff to organise an extra serve on each tapas plate where possible, so there were 5 portions where there would normally be 4.
We started with the glazed chorizo which is an Amphoras must-have – don’t let them take it away before you have mopped up all the glaze with bread – then there were marinated mushrooms, arancini, anchovy toasts, crumbed goat cheese, and warm bread with butter and black salt

Anchovies are one of those love it or hate it foods – I love them but I get that other people don’t. Still, these were superb – not the super-salty, tiny crumbly morsels that you get in tins – these were large, fresh and marinated in vinegar, served with tomato salsa and bread. They matched really well with the prosecco – tart, appley bubbles to chase the sharpness.

 Fresh anchovy fillets.
I was grateful to have to chance to sit in the sunshine – yes, sunshine! I was lucky with the weather – and have a laugh with some smart, talented and funny ladies. As I said to Mel afterwards, I couldn’t have wished for better but longer would have been nice.
I did drag my feet a bit when it was time to go back to the office, but the afternoon was busy, and the last part of the day disappeared in a flurry of paperwork. I walked to the bus-stop via Gangemi’s. The guys there know their stuff and can always be guaranteed to point me straight at the wine I want. This time I was steered towards a De Bortoli Este 2006 “ultra sauvage, hand riddled, hand disgorged” which was deeply amber and tasted of honey toast - an appropriate book-end to a day which had begun with Pommery. 

Later that evening, I matched the Este with cheap pizza and The Sound of Music on DVD.
Hey, the birthday law, the sixth commandment in fact, says that thou shalt do whatever the hell you want, and if that’s alternating mouthfuls of deep-pan Super Supreme with karaoke renditions of “Edelweiss” and "The Lonely Goatherd", then so be it. 

Before I reached home, I stopped off at The Nic in Subiaco for a quiet glass of red (Yelland and Papps Shiraz) to toast myself and the fact that I have survived to celebrate another birthday.

It's not a birthday without some Shiraz.
I rarely go to bars by myself, so it was a different experience to sit and sip my wine and watch other people socialise. The Nic (formerly The Suite) has recently changed management and expanded its premises - what you get is a big airy bar in a quiet part of the suburb. Worth a return visit when I am back that way, next time with friends.

It was also a time for contemplation and for planning how I am going to continue to be kind to myself in the year ahead. I have gifted myself with some travel before the end of the year, some good food and drink experiences, and a couple of adventures. You'll get the blog posts on those as they happen.

Commandment Eight also says it is permissible to stretch out your birthday over multiple days, especially if your actual birthday is on a week day.
And that's my excuse for yesterday's dinner at The Moon Cafe in Northbridge. (No food photos - mood lighting issues) In actual fact, I wasn't there to celebrate my birthday at all, I was there to have a reunion with some former colleagues, one of whom was visiting from Switzerland, but when I got there, there was present for me, and another friend just happened to have a musical birthday cake candle with him (it was Barbie Pink and played a tinny version of "Happy Birthday" if you pressed a button) so they sang the song and I got to blow out the candle.

Berry cheesecake with cream AND icecream and a musical candle.
Funnily enough, I quite forgot to make a wish. At the moment I blew that candle out, I was in such a happy place it didn't even cross my mind..

I've checked The Birthday Law - candles and wishes are not mentioned, perhaps they are sub judice as their place in the law is considered? Perhaps it's not necessary to mention them; if your birthday brings you wine and song and friends and cake and apple-green plates and, if liked, anchovies, then really, what more is there to wish for?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Through a glass darkly: The Victoria Room, Sydney.

The soft glow of amber lighting – I love it. Give me the pinpoint of a tea-light, the buttery warmth of an ivory-shaded table lamp, or the muted fire of a fringed standard lamp: all are a beacon for my inner romantic.
Not for my inner food blogger though. The more romantic and muted and softly-glowing the light of a restaurant or café is, the less opportunity there will be to take decent photographs unless I descend to the barbarism of using a flash and risk ending up with food ‘mug-shots’. I suppose I could take a photography course, learn to do the do with my SLR, but that is a big, clunky piece of equipment, and not the kind of thing you can subtly whip out mid-dining experience. So I use my iPhone and I make do.
Of course, when out with other bloggers, this problem is easily fixed. In a spirit of cooperation that could lead to world domination if properly harnessed, food bloggers are always there ready to light each other’s shots – to use their iPhone flashlights to light your dish from above or from the side so that the pesky shadows are eliminated without the food looking as if it has been caught in flagrante

At The Victoria Room, I was in non-blogging company so my “Aah!” of delight as I ran up the carpeted staircase with its discreet floor-lights, soon gave way to the “Oh” of regret when I realised that any food photography was pretty much out.
It’s an elegant space. High ceilings, hanging bamboo partitions, white linen on the table and everywhere the lamps. It reminded me of The Raffles Hotel in Singapore (where I have never stayed, you understand, but used to go for drinks in the Long Bar or High Tea in the Tiffin Room as a treat when I lived in Singapore in the 90s) – very Raj Quartet and 1920s colonial. If someone had put a Singapore Sling down in front of me, I would not have been surprised.

As it was, the charming manager welcomed my dining companion, F., and me and asked if we would like a drink at the bar first or if we would like to be seated directly. We’d already been for drinks at Hinky Dinks which was just a little further up the street, so we asked to be seated and he personally escorted us to our table – a linen-covered, ruby tea-light lit affair in a quiet corner of what was an unexpectedly large premises.

Above us, there was a large chandelier with a shade over it – no dazzling sparkle of crystals here, just a subdued effect with the occasional rainbow glint.

But there no dazzling food photography (not that mine ever really approached dazzling anyway) that evening either. So here we have it, the worst food blogger sin is being committed - a blog post with zero pictures of food. Judge me if you must. But you know something? For me that's just fine. Every now and then, it is nice to have a meal where the only things that you hold in your hand are knife, fork, spoon, and wine-glass. The phone/camera stays in the bag for the most part, and you focus on your friends and your food. There will be pictures of food in my next post - I promise.

Lots of photos in the official Victoria Room book though...
The food was good. Nothing out-of-this world, but a decent meal. It’s tapas-style dining, so we chose a few dishes to share. I think my favourite on the night had to be the fried Goats Cheese Balls with balsamic onion marmalade and truffle honey – cracking the breadcrumb shell, to get to the mellow, melty cheese in the middle was a real pleasure and the sweetness from the onions and the honey, with a noseful of truffle to help the flavours along, was a different experience.
We also tried the Queensland prawns pan-seared with lemon, chilli and garlic, the spicy Moroccan style meatballs, and the grilled herb bread. These were more standard tapas fare but still well done – the prawns were large and succulent, the meatballs of a good size and hidden in the tomato-based sauce. We used up all the grilled bread in soaking up the sauce, and we could have done with more.

My experiment of the evening was not in the food though, but in the drink. The Victoria Room bar is as much a study in dark wood and decadence as the rest of the restaurant is a fantasy of crystals and candles. They have an unusual cocktail menu which uses Bach Flower Remedies in the drinks. This cocktail range is called “What the Doctor Ordered.”
Quick aside – I am a sceptic through and through. I do not believe in homeopathy. If you catch me on a bad day, do NOT offer me your Rescue Remedy or things will not end well between us. If this was what a doctor actually ever ordered, there would be more than words, there would be whole lectures with the full weight of my sceptic certainty behind them. There would also be a viewing of this video...
I am all for an interesting taste sensation though and this seemed like a good opportunity to try something new.

My Seachange cocktail set me back $21 – but fair enough, it had a decent mix of the curious within: Quandong and Gentian liqueur from the Tambourine Mountain Distillery, Hendrick’s gin (always a favourite), orgeat, and lemon juice. The homeopathic magic was provided by the Bach Flower essence Wild Oat and it claimed that I would know my destiny – the advertising said ‘know thy destiny’ and the use of the word ‘thy’ should tell you everything you need to know here – and be able to choose life’s path. Of course, the menu, had the typo, 'know the destiny' - which is more overwhelming still. I waited to see what omniscience my tipple would bring to me.

The actual effect was pleasantly herbal at first, and let’s face it, with that many botanicals going on, why wouldn’t it be? After that, it was like an
Army Navy cocktail with a whole heap of extra florals and aromatics.

Did I choose life’s path? No. Did I get a sudden urge to try out The Victoria Room trapeze? Absolutely. I think if I’d had one more cocktail the whole ‘trapeze is not for public use’ caveat would not have been enough to stop me.

We asked a waiter why it was there. Apparently, The Victoria Room has fun Sunday evenings with circus and burlesque acts at their Performance Carnival. This would have been something to see indeed, and the next time I am Sydney, I will reserve a Sunday evening to watch this happen - as it was that Sunday evening saw me on a plane back to Perth.
If ambient lighting and atmosphere are your delight, then The Victoria Room is for you. You'll be romanced by the décor, warmed by the food, and entertained by the performances if you go on a Sunday. Choose your evening carefully though – that romantic dinner for two might not work so well on the same evening as the burlesque hula-hooping– and choose your cocktail carefully too: your future path may just depend on it.